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An Introduction 



London • New York 

First published by Verso 1991 
© Verso 1991 
AH rights reserved 


UK: 6 Meard Street, London Wl V 3HR 

USA: 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001-2291 

Verso is the imprint of New Left Books 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 

Eagleton, Terry, )943- 

Ideology : an introduction. 
1. Ideologies 
I. Title 

ISBN 0-86091-319-8 
ISBN 0-86091-538-7 pbk 

US Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Eagleton, Terry, 1943 - 

Ideology : an introduction / Terry Eagleton, 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index, 

ISBN 0-86091-319-8, - ISBN 0-86091-538-7 (pbk.) 

1. Ideology— History. L Title. 

B823.3.E17 1991 

Typeset by Leaper & Gard Ltd, Great Britain 

Printed and bound in Finland by Werner Soderstrom Oy 

For Norman Feltes 


Introduction xi 


What Is Ideology? 1 

Ideological Strategies 33 


From the Enlightenment to the 
Second International 63 

From Lukacs to Gramsci 93 

From Adorno to Bourdieu 1 25 

From Schopenhauer to Sorel 159 

Discourse and Ideology 193 

Conclusion 221 

Notes 225 

Further Reading " 233 

Index 235 

Consider, as a final example, the attitude of contemporary American 

liberals to the unending hopelessness and misery of the lives of the 

young blacks in American cities. Do we say that these people must be 

helped because they are our fellow human beings? We may, but it is 

much more persuasive, morally as well as politically, to describe them 

as our fellow Americans - to insist that it is outrageous that an American 

should live without hope. 

RichahdRorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity 

On the usclessness of the notion of 'ideology', see 
Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory 

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity 


CONSIDER the following paradox. The last decade has witnessed a remark- 
able resurgence of ideological movements throughout the world. In the 
Middle East, Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a potent political force. 
In the so-called Third World, and in one region of the British Isles, revolu- 
tionary nationalism continues to join battle with imperialist power, In some 
of the post-capitalist states of the Eastern bloc, a still tenacious neo-Stalinism 
remains locked in combat with an array of oppositional forces. The most 
powerful capitalist nation in history has been swept from end to end by a 
peculiarly noxious brand of Christian Evangelicalism. Throughout this 
period, Britain has suffered the most ideologically aggressive and explicit 
regime of living political memory, in a society which traditionally prefers its 
ruling values to remain implicit and oblique. Meanwhile, somewhere on the 
left bank, it is announced that the concept of ideology is now obsolete. 

How are we to account for this absurdity? Why is it that in a world 
racked by ideological conflict, the very notion of ideology has evaporated 
without trace from the writings of postmodernism and post-structuralism? 1 
The theoretical clue to this conundrum is a topic that shall concern us in 
this book Very briefly, I argue that three key doctrines of postmodernist 
thought have conspired to discredit the classical concept of ideology. The 
first of these doctrines turns on a rejection of the notion of representation - 
in fact, a rejection of an empiricist model of representation, in which the 


representational baby has been nonchalantly slung out with, the empiricist 
bathwater. The second revolves on an epistemological scepticism which 
would hold that the very act of identifying a form of consciousness as 
ideological entails some untenable notion of absolute truth. Since the latter 
idea attracts few devotees these days, the former is thought to crumble in its 
wake. We cannot brand Pol Pot a Stalinist bigot since this would imply some 
metaphysical certitude about what not being a Stalinist bigot would involve. 
The third doctrine concerns a reformulation of the relations between 
rationality, interests and power, along roughly neo-Nietzschean lines, which 
is thought to render the whole concept of ideology redundant. Taken 
together, these three theses have been thought by some enough to dispose of 
the whole question of ideology, at exactly the historical moment when 
Muslim demonstrators beat their foreheads till the blood runs, and 
American farmhands anticipate being swept imminendy up into heaven, 
Cadillac and all. 

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great historical events happen, so to 
speak, twice. (He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.) 
The current suppression of the concept of ideology is in one sense a 
recycling of the so-called 'end of ideology' epoch which followed the Second 
World War; but whereas that movement was at least partially explicable as a 
traumatized response to the crimes of fascism and Stalinism, no such 
political rationale underpins the present fashionable aversion to ideological 
critique. Moreover, the 'end-of-ideology' school was palpably a creation of 
the political right, whereas our own 'post-ideological' complacency often 
enough sports radical credentials. If the 'end-of-ideology' theorists viewed 
all ideology as inherendy closed, dogmatic and inflexible, postmodernist 
thought tends to see all ideology as teleological, 'totalitarian' and meta- 
physically grounded. Grossly travestied in this way, the concept of ideology 
obediently ^writes itself off. 

The abandonment of the notion of ideology belongs with a more 
pervasive political faltering by whole sections of the erstwhile revolutionary 
left, which in the face of a capitalism temporarily on the offensive has beaten 
a steady, shamefaced retreat from such 'metaphysical' matters as class 
struggle and modes of production, revolutionary agency and the nature of 
the bourgeois state. It is, admittedly, something of an embarrassment for this 
position that, just at the moment when it was denouncing the concept of 
revolution as so much metaphysical claptrap, the thing itself broke out 
where it had been least expected, in the Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern 


Europe. No doubt President Ceausescu spent his last moments on earth, 
reminding his executioners that revolution was an outmoded concept, that 
there were only ever micro-strategies and local deconstructions, and that the 
idea of a 'collective revolutionary subject' was hopelessly passe. The aim of 
this book is in one sense suitably modest - to clarify something of the 
tangled conceptual history of the notion of ideology. But it also offers itself 
as a political intervention into these broader issues, and so as a political 
riposte to this latest treason of the clerks. 

A poem by Thorn Gunn speaks of a German conscript in the Second 
World War who risked his life helping Jews to escape the fate in store for 
them at the hands of the Nazis: 

I know he had unusual eyes, 

Whose power no orders could determine, 

Not to mistake the men he saw, 

As others did, for gods or vermin. 

What persuades men and women to mistake each other from time to time 
for gods or vermin is ideology. One can understand well enough how 
human beings may struggle and murder for good material reasons - reasons 
connected, for instance, with their physical survival. It is much harder to 
grasp how they may come to do so in the name of something as apparendy 
abstract as ideas. Yet ideas are what men and women live by, and will 
occasionally die for. If Gunn's conscript escaped the ideological conditioning 
of his fellows, how did he come to do so? Did he act as he did in the name of 
an alternative, more clement ideology, or just because he had a realistic view 
of the nature of things? Did his unusual eyes appreciate men and women for 
what they were, or were his perceptions in some sense as much biased as 
those of his comrades, but in a way we happen to approve rather than 
condemn? Was the soldier acting against his own interests, or in the name of 
some deeper interest? Is ideology just a 'mistake', or has it a more complex, 
elusive character? 

The study of ideology is among other things an inquiry into the ways in 
which people may come to invest in their own unhappiness. It is because 
being oppressed sometimes brings with it some slim bonuses that we are 
occasionally prepared to put up with it. The most efficient oppressor is the 
one who persuades his underlings to love, desire and identify with his power; 
and any practice of political emancipation thus involves that most difficult 


of all forms of liberation, freeing ourselves from ourselves. The other side of 
the story, however, is equally important. For if such dominion fails to yield 
its victims sufficient gratification over an extended period of time, then it is 
certain that they will finally revolt against it. If it is rational to settle for an 
ambiguous mixture of misery and marginal pleasure when the political 
alternatives appear perilous and obscure, it is equally rational to rebel when 
the miseries clearly outweigh the gratifications, and when it seems likely 
that there is more to be gained than to be lost by such action. 

It is important to see that, in the critique of ideology, only those inter- 
ventions will work which make sense to the mystified subject itself. In this 
sense, 'ideology critique' has an interesting affinity with the techniques of 
psychoanalysis. 'Criticism', in its Enlightenment sense, consists in recounting 
to someone what is awry with their situation, from an external, perhaps 
'transcendental' vantage-point 'Critique' is that form of discourse which 
seeks to inhabit the experience of the subject from inside, in order to elicit 
those Valid' features of that experience which point beyond the subject's 
present condition. 'Criticism' instructs currently innumerate men and 
women that the acquisition of mathematical knowledge is an excellent 
cultural goal; 'critique' recognizes that they will achieve such knowledge 
quickly enough if their wage packets are at stake. The critique of ideology, 
then, presumes that nobody is ever wholly mystified - that those subject to 
oppression experience even now hopes and desires which could only be 
realistically fulfilled by a transformation of their material conditions. If it 
rejects the external standpoint of Enlightenment rationality, it shares with 
the Enlightenment this fundamental trust in the moderately rational nature 
of human beings. Someone who was entirely the victim of ideological 
delusion would not even be able to recognize an emancipatory claim upon 
them; and it is because people do not cease to desire, struggle and imagine, 
even in the most apparently unpropitious of conditions, that the practice of 
political emancipation is a genuine possibility. This is not to claim that 
oppressed individuals secretly harbour some full-blown alternative to their 
unhappiness; but it is to claim that, once they have freed themselves from the 
causes of that suffering, they must be able to look back, re-write their life- 
histories and recognize that what they enjoy now is what they would have 
previously desired, if only they had been able to be aware of it. It is testi- 
mony to the fact that nobody is, ideologically speaking, a complete dupe that 
people who are characterized as inferior must actually learn to be so. It is not 
enough for a woman or colonial subject to be defined as a lower form of life: 


they must be actively taught this definition, and some of them prove to be 
brilliant graduates in this process. It is astonishing how subde, resourceful 
and quick-witted men and women can be in proving themselves to be 
uncivilized and thickheaded. In one sense, of course, this 'performative 
contradiction' is cause for political despondency; but in the appropriate 
circumstances it is a contradiction on which a ruling order may come to 

Over the past ten years I have discussed the concept of ideology with Toril 
Moi perhaps more regularly and intensively than any other intellectual 
topic, and her thoughts on the subject are now so closely interwoven with 
mine that where her reflections end and mine begin is, as they are fond of 
saying these days, 'undecidable'. I am grateful to have had the benefit of her 
keener, more analytic mind. I must also thank Norman Geras, who read the 
book and gave me the benefit of his valuable judgement; and I am grateful 
to Ken Hirschkop, who submitted the manuscript of the book to a typically 
meticulous reading and thus saved me from a number of lapses and lacunae. 
I am also much indebted to Gargi Bhattacharyya, who generously spared 
time from her own work to give me valuable assistance with research. 

What Is Ideology? 

NOBODY has yet come up with a single adequate definition of ideology, and 
this book will be no exceptioa This is not because workers in the field are 
remarkable for their low intelligence, but because the term 'ideology' has a 
whole range of useful meanings, not all of which are compatible with each 
other. To try to compress this wealth of meaning into a single comprehen- 
sive definition would thus be unhelpful even if it were possible. The word 
'ideology', one might say, is a text, woven of a whole tissue of different 
conceptual strands; it is traced through by divergent histories, and it is 
probably more important to assess what is valuable or can be discarded in 
each of these lineages than to merge them forcibly into some Grand Global 

To indicate this variety of meaning, let me list more or less at random 
some definitions of ideology currently in circulation: 

(a) the process of production of meanings, signs and values in social life; 

(b) a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class; 

(c) ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power; 

(d) false ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power, 

(e) systematically distorted communication; 
if) that which offers a position for a subject; 

(g) forms of thought motivated by social interests; 

Ideology * 

(A) identity thinking; 

(/) socially necessary illusion; 

(J) the conjuncture of discourse and power; 

(k) the medium in which conscious social actors make sense of their 


(?) action-oriented sets of beliefs; 

(m) the confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality, 

(») semiotic closure; 

(o) the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations 

to a social structure; 

(p) the process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality.' 

There are several points to be noted about this list. First, not all of these 
formulations are compatible with one another. If, for example, ideology 
means an}' set of beliefs motivated by social interests, then it cannot simply 
signify the dominant forms of thought in a society. Others of these definitions 
may be mutually compatible, but with some interesting implications: if 
ideology is both illusion and the medium in which social actors make sense 
of their world, then this tells us something rather depressing about our 
routine modes of sense-making. Secondly, we may note that some of these 
formulations are pejorative, others ambiguously so, and some not pejorative 
at all. On several of these definitions, nobody would claim that their own 
thinking was ideological, just as nobody would habitually refer to them- 
selves as Fatso. Ideology, like halitosis, is in this sense what the other person 
has. It is pan of what we mean by claiming that human beings are somewhat 
rational that we would be puzzled to encounter someone who held convic- 
tions which they acknowledged to be illusory. Some of these definitions, 
however, are neutral in this respect - 'a body of ideas characteristic of a 
particular social group or class', for example - and to this extent one might 
well term one's own views ideological without any implication that they 
were false or chimerical. 

Thirdly, we can note that some of these formulations involve episte- 
mological questions - questions concerned with our knowledge of the world 
- while others are silent on this score. Some of them involve a sense of not 
seeing reality properly, whereas a definition like 'action-oriented sets of 
beliefs' leaves this issue open. This distinction, as we shall see, is an 
important bone of contention in the theory of ideology, and reflects a 
dissonance between two of the mainstream traditions we find inscribed 

What h Ideology? 

within the term. Roughly speaking, one central lineage, from Hegel and 
Marx to Georg Lukacs and some later Marxist thinkers, has been much 
preoccupied with ideas of true and false cognition, with ideology as illusion, 
distortion and mystification; whereas an alternative tradition of thought has 
been less epistemological than sociological, concerned more with the 
function of ideas within social life than with their reality or unreality. The 
Marxist heritage has itself straddled these two intellectual currents, and that 
both of them have something interesting to tell us will be one of the con- 
tentions of this book. 

Whenever one is pondering the meaning of some specialized term, it is 
always useful to get a sense of how it would be used by the person-in-the- 
street, if it is used there at all. This is not to claim such usage as some final 
court of appeal, a gesture which many would view as itself ideological; but 
consulting the person-in-the-street nonetheless has its uses. What, then, 
would be meant if somebody remarked in the course of a pub conversation: 
'Oh, that's just ideological!' Not, presumably, that what had just been said 
was simply false, though this might be implied; if that was what was meant, 
why not just say so? It is also unlikely that people in a pub would mean 
something like That's a fine specimen of semiotic closure!' or hotly accuse 
one another of confusing linguistic and phenomenal reality. To claim in 
ordinary conversation that someone is speaking ideologically is surely to 
hold that they are judging a particular issue through some rigid framework 
of preconceived ideas which distorts their understanding. I view things as 
they really are; you squint at them though a tunnel vision imposed by some 
extraneous system of doctrine. There is usually a suggestion that this 
involves an oversimplifying view of the world - that to speak or judge 
'ideologically' is to do so schematically, stereotypically, and perhaps with the 
faintest hint of fanaticism. The opposite of ideology here, then, would be less 
'absolute truth' than 'empirical' or 'pragmatic'. This view, the person-in-the- 
street might be gratified to hear, has the august support of the sociologist 
Emile Durkheim, who characterized the 'ideological method' as consisting 
in 'the use of notions to govern the collation of facts rather than deriving 
notions from them.' 2 

It is surely not hard to show what is wrong with such a case. Most people 
would not concede that without preconceptions of some kind - what the 
philosopher Martin Heidegger calls 'pre-understandings' - we would not 
even be able to identify an issue or situation, let alone pass judgement upon 
it. There is no such thing as presuppositionless thought, and to this extent all 


of our thinking might be said to be ideological. Perhaps rigid preconceptions 
makes the difference: I presume that Paul McCartney has eaten in the last 
three months, which is not particularly ideological, whereas you presuppose 
that he is one of the forty thousand elect who will be saved on the Day of 
Judgement But one person's rigidity is, notoriously, another's open- 
mindedness. His thought is red-neck, yours is doctrinal, and mine is 
deliriously supple. There are certainly forms of thought which simply 'read 
off' a particular situation from certain pre-established general principles, 
and the style of thinking we call 'rationalist' has in general been guilty of this 
error. But it remains to be seen whether all that we call ideological is in this 
sense rationalistic. 

Some of the most vociferous persons-in-the-street are known as 
American sociologists. The belief that ideology is a schematic, inflexible way 
of seeing the world, as against some more modest, piecemeal, pragmatic 
wisdom, was elevated in the post-war period from a piece of popular 
wisdom to an elaborate sociological theory. 3 For the American political 
theorist Edward Shils, ideologies are explicit, closed, resistant to innovation, 
promulgated with a great deal of affectivity and require total adherence 
from their devotees.* What this comes down to is that the Soviet Union is in 
the grip of ideology while the United States sees things as they really are. 
This, as the reader will appreciate, is not in itself an ideological viewpoint 
To seek some humble, pragmatic political goal, such as bringing down the 
democratically elected government of Chile, is a question of adapting 
oneself realistically to the facts; to send one's tanks into Czechoslovakia is an 
instance of ideological fanaticism. 

An interesting feature of this 'end-of-ideology' ideology is that it tends to 
view ideology in two quite contradictory ways, as at once blindly irrational 
and excessively rationalistic. On the one hand, ideologies are passionate, 
rhetorical, impelled by some benighted pseudo-religious faith which the 
sober technocratic world of modern capitalism has thankfully outgrown; on 
the other hand they are arid conceptual systems which seek to reconstruct 
society from the ground up in accordance with some bloodless blueprint As 
Alvin Gouldner sardonically encapsulates these ambivalences, ideology is 
'the mind-inflaming realm of the doctrinaire, the dogmatic, the im- 
passioned, the dehumanising, the false, the irrational, and, of course, the 
"extremist" consciousness'. 5 From the standpoint of an empiricist social 
engineering, ideologies have at once too much heart and too little, and so 
can be condemned in the same breath as lurid fantasy and strairjacketing 

What Is Ideology? 

dogma. They attract, in other words, the ambiguous response traditionally 
accorded to intellectuals, who are scorned for their visionary dreaming at 
the very moment they are being censured for their clinical remoteness from 
common affections. It is a choice irony that in seeking to replace an im- 
passioned fanaticism with an austerely technocratic approach to social 
problems, the end-of-ideology theorists unwittingly re-enact the gesture of 
those who invented the term 'ideology' in the first place, the ideologues of 
the French Enlightenment. 

An objection to the case that ideology consists in peculiarly rigid sets of 
ideas is that not every rigid set of ideas is ideological. I may have unusually 
inflexible beliefs about how to brush my teeth, submitting each individual 
tooth to an exact number of strokes and favouring mauve toothbrushes only, 
but it would seem strange in most circumstances to call such views ideological. 
('Pathological' might be rather more accurate.) It is true that people some- 
times use the word ideology to refer to systematic belief in general, as when 
someone says that they abstain from eating meat 'for practical rather than 
ideological reasons'. 'Ideology' here is more or less synonymous with the 
broad sense of the term 'philosophy', as in the phrase The President has no 
philosophy', which was spoken approvingly about Richard Nixon by one of 
his aides. But ideology is surely often felt to entail more than just this. If I am 
obsessional about brushing my teeth because if the British do not keep in 
good health then the Soviets will walk all over our flabby, toothless nation, 
or if I make a fetish of physical health because I belong to a society which 
can exert technological dominion over just about everything but death, then 
it might make more sense to describe my behaviour as ideologically 
motivated. The term ideology, in other words, would seem to make reference 
not only to belief systems, but to questions of power. 

What kind of reference, though? Perhaps the most common answer is to 
claim that ideology has to do with legitimating the power of a dominant 
social group or class. To study ideology', writes John B. Thompson, '. . . is to 
study the ways in which meaning (or signification) serves to sustain relations 
of domination.' 6 This is probably the single most widely accepted definition 
of ideology; and the process of legitimation would seem to involve at least 
six different strategies. A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting 
beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so 
as to render them self-evident and apparendy inevitable; denigrating ideas 
which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some 
unspoken but systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient 


to itself. Such 'mystification.', as it is commonly known, frequently takes the 
form of masking or suppressing social conflicts, from which arises the 
conception of ideology as an imaginary resolution of real contradictions. In 
any actual ideological formation, all six of these strategies are likely to 
interact in complex ways. 

There are, however, at least two major difficulties with this otherwise 
persuasive definition of ideology. For one thing, not every body of belief 
which people commonly term ideological is associated with a dominant 
political power. The political left, in particular, tends almost instinctively to 
think of such dominant modes when it considers the topic of ideology, but 
what then do we call the beliefs of the Levellers, Diggers, Narodniks and 
Suffragettes, which were certainly not the governing value systems of their 
day? Are socialism and feminism ideologies, and if not why not? Are they 
non-ideological when in political opposition but ideological when they 
come to power? If what the Diggers and Suffragettes believed is 'ideological', 
as a good deal of common usage would suggest, then by no means all 
ideologies are oppressive and spuriously legitimating. Indeed the right-wing 
political theorist Kenneth Minogue holds, astoundingly, that all ideologies 
are politically oppositional, sterile totalizing schemes as opposed to the 
ruling practical wisdom: 'Ideologies can be specified in terms of a shared 
hostility to modernity, to liberalism in politics, individualism in moral 
practice, and the market in economics.' 7 On this view, supporters of 
socialism are ideological whereas defenders of capitalism are not. The extent 
to which one is prepared to use the term ideology of one's own political 
views is a reliable index of the nature of one's political ideology. Generally 
speaking, conservatives like Minogue are nervous of the concept in their 
own case, since to dub their own beliefs ideological would be to risk turning 
them into objects of contestation. 

Does this mean, then, that socialists, feminists and other radicals should 
come clean about the ideological nature of their own values? If the term 
ideology is confined to dominant forms of social thought, such a move would 
be inaccurate and needlessly confusing; but it may be felt that there is need 
here for a broader definition of ideology, as any kind of intersection between 
belief systems and political power. And such a definition would be neutral 
on the question of whether this intersection challenged or confirmed a 
particular social order. The political philosopher Martin Seliger argues for 
just such a formulation, defining ideology as 'sets of ideas by which men [sic] 
posit, explain and justify ends and means of organised social action, and 

What Is Ideology? 

specifically political action, irrespective of whether such action aims to 
preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order'. 8 On this formation, 
it would make perfect sense to speak of 'socialist ideology', as it would not (at 
least in the West) if ideology meant just ruling belief systems, and as it would 
not, at least for a socialist, if ideology referred inescapably to illusion, 
mystification and false consciousness. 

To widen the scope of the term ideology in this style has the advantage of 
staying faithful to much common usage, and thus of resolving the apparent 
dilemma of why, say, fascism should be an ideology but feminism should not 
be. It carries, however, the disadvantage of appearing to jettison from the 
concept of ideology a number of elements which many radical theorists have 
assumed to be central to if. the obscuring and 'naturalizing' of social reality, 
the specious resolution of real contradictions, and so on. My own view is 
that both the wider and narrower senses of ideology have their uses, and that 
their mutual incompatibility, descending as they do from divergent political 
and conceptual histories, must be simply acknowledged. This view has the 
advantage of remaining loyal to the implicit slogan of Bertolt Brecht - 'Use 
what you can!' - and the disadvantage of excessive charity. 

Such charity is a fault because it risks broadening the concept of ideology 
to the point where it becomes politically toothless; and this is the second 
problem with the 'ideology as legitimation' thesis, one which concerns the 
nature of power itself. On the view of Michel Foucault and his acolytes, 
power is not something confined to armies and parliaments: it is, rather, a 
pervasive, intangible network of force which weaves itself into our slightest 
gestures and most intimate utterances. 9 On this theory, to limit the idea of 
power to its more obvious political manifestations would itself be an 
ideological move, obscuring the complex diffuseness of its operations. That 
we should think of power as imprinting our personal relations and routine 
activities is a clear political gain, as feminists, for instance, have not been 
slow to recognize; but it carries with it a problem for the meaning of 
ideology. For if there are no values and beliefs not bound up with power, 
then the term ideology threatens to expand to vanishing point Any word 
which covers everything loses its cutting edge and dwindles to an empty 
sound. For a term to have meaning, it must be possible to specify what, in 
particular circumstances, would count as the other of it - which doesn't 
necessarily mean specifying something which would be always and everywhere 
the other of it. If power, like the Almighty himself, is omnipresent, then the 
word ideology ceases to single out anything in particular and becomes 


wholly uninformative -just as if any piece of human behaviour whatsoever, 
including torture, could count as an instance of compassion, the word 
compassion shrinks to an empty signifier. 

Faithful to this logic, Foucault and his followers effectively abandon the 
concept of ideology altogether, replacing it with the more capacious 
'discourse'. But this may be to relinquish too quickly a useful distinction. 
The force of the term ideology lies in its capacity to discriminate between 
those power struggles which are somehow central to a whole form of social 
life, and those which are not. A breakfast-time quarrel between husband and 
wife over who exactly allowed the toast to turn that grotesque shade of black 
need not be ideological; it becomes so when, for example, it begins to engage 
questions of sexual power, beliefs about gender roles and so on. To say that 
this sort of contention is ideological makes a difference, tells us something 
informative, as the more 'expansionistic' senses of the word do not. Those 
radicals who hold that 'everything is ideological' or 'everything is political' 
seem not to realize that they are in danger of cutting the ground from 
beneath their own feet. Such slogans may valuably challenge an excessively 
narrow definition of politics and ideology, one convenient for a ruling 
power intent on depoliticizing whole sectors of social life. But to stretch 
these terms to the point where they become coextensive with everything is 
simply to empty them of force, which is equally congenial to the ruling 
order. It is perfecdy possible to agree with Nietzsche and Foucault that 
power is everywhere, while wanting for certain practical purposes to distin- 
guish between more and less central instances of it. 

There are those on the political left, however, who feel uneasy about this 
whole business of deciding between the more and less central. Isn't this 
merely a surreptitious attempt to marginalize certain power struggles which 
have been unduly neglected? Do we really want to draw up a hierarchy of 
such conflicts, thus reproducing a typically conservative habit of thought? If 
someone actually believes that a squabble between two children over a ball is 
as important as the El Salvador liberation movement, then you simply have 
to ask them whether they are joking. Perhaps by dint of sufficient ridicule 
you might persuade them to become properly hierarchical thinkers. Political 
radicals are quite as dedicated to the concept of privilege as their opponents: 
they believe, for example, that the level of food supplies in Mozambique is a 
weightier issue than the love life of Mickey Mouse. To claim that one kind of 
conflict is more important than another involves, of course, arguing for this 
priority and being open to disproval; but nobody actually believes that 

What Is Ideology? 

'power is everywhere' in the sense that any manifestation of it is as signifi- 
cant as any other. On this issue, as perhaps on all others, nobody is in fact a 
relativist, whatever they may rhetorically assert 

Not everything, then, may usefully be said to be ideological. If there is 
nothing which is not ideological, then the term cancels all the way through 
and drops out of sight. To say this does not commit one to believing that 
there is a kind of discourse which is inherently non-ideological; it just means 
that in any particular situation you must be able to point to what counts as 
non-ideological for the term to have meaning. Equally, however, one might 
claim that there is no piece of discourse which could not be ideological, given 
the appropriate conditions. 'Have you put the cat out yet?' could be an 
ideological utterance, if (for example) it carried the unspoken implication: 
'Or are you being your usual shiftless proletarian self?' Conversely, the state- 
ment 'men are superior to women' need not be ideological (in the sense of 
supporting a dominant power); delivered in a suitably sardonic tone, it 
might be a way of subverting sexist ideology. 

A way of putting this point is to suggest that ideology is a matter of 
'discourse' rather than 'language'. 10 It concerns the actual uses of language 
between particular human subjects for the production of specific effects. 
You could not decide whether a statement was ideological or not by 
inspecting it in isolation from its discursive context, any more than you 
could decide in this way whether a piece of writing was a work of literary 
art. Ideology is less a matter of the inherent linguistic properties of a 
pronouncement than a question of who is saying what to whom for what 
purposes. This isn't to deny that there are particular ideological 'idioms': the 
language of fascism, for example. Fascism tends to have its own peculiar 
lexicon (Lebensraum, sacrifice, blood and soil), but what is primarily ideo- 
logical about these terms is the power-interests they serve and the political 
effects they generate. The general point, then, is that exacdy the same piece 
of language may be ideological in one context and not in another; ideology 
is a function of the relation of an utterance to its social context 

Similar problems to those of the 'pan-powerist' case arise if we define 
ideology as any discourse bound up with specific social interests. For, once 
again, what discourse isn't? Many people outside right-wing academia 
would nowadays suspect the notion of some wholly disinterested language; 
and if they are right then it would seem pointless to define ideology as 
'socially interested' utterances, since this covers absolutely anything. (The 
very word 'interest', incidentally, is of ideological interest: as Raymond 


Williams points out in Keywords, it is significant that 'our most general word 
for attraction or involvement should have developed from a formal objective 
term in property and finance . . . this now central word for attraction, atten- 
tion and concern is saturated with the experience of a society based on 
money relationships*.") Perhaps we could try to distinguish here between 
'social' and purely 'individual' kinds of interest, so that the word ideology 
would denote the interests of specific social groups rather than, say, 
someone's insatiable hankering for haddock. But the dividing line between 
social and individual is notoriously problematic, and 'social interests' is in 
any case so broad a category as to risk emptying the concept of ideology 
once more of meaning. 

It may be useful, even so, to discriminate between two 'levels' of interest, 
one of which might be said to be ideological and the other not. Human 
beings have certain 'deep' interests generated by the nature of their bodies: 
interests in earing, communicating with one another, understanding and 
controlling their environment and so on. There seems no very useful sense 
in which these kinds of interest can be dubbed ideological, as opposed, for 
example, to having an interest in bringing down the government or laying 
on more childcare. Postmodernist thought, under the influence of Friedrich 
Nietzsche, has typically conflated these different sorts of interests in an illicit 
way, fashioning a homogeneous universe in which everything from tying 
one's shoelaces to toppling dictatorships is levelled to a matter of 'interests'. 
The political effect of this move is to blur the specificity of certain forms of 
social conflict, grossly inflating the whole category of 'interests' to the point 
where it picks out nothing in particular. To describe ideology as 'interested' 
discourse, then, calls for the same qualification as characterizing it as a 
question of power. In both cases, the term is forceful and informative only if 
it helps us to distinguish between those interests and power conflicts which 
at any given time are fairly central to a whole social order, and those which 
are not. 

None of the argument so far casts much light on the epistemological issues 
involved in the theory of ideology - on the question, for example, of 
whether ideology can be usefully viewed as 'false consciousness'. This is a 
fairly unpopular notion of ideology nowadays, for a number of reasons. For 
one thing, epistemology itself is at the moment somewhat out of fashion, 
and the assumption that some of our ideas 'match' or 'correspond to' the way 
things are, while others do not, is felt by some to be a naive, discreditable 


What Is Ideology? 

theory of knowledge. For another thing, the idea of false consciousness can 
be taken as implying the possibility of some unequivocally correct way of 
viewing the world, which is today under deep suspicion Moreover, the 
belief that a minority of theorists monopolize a scientifically grounded 
knowledge of how society is, while the rest of us blunder around in some fog 
of false consciousness, does not particularly endear itself to the democratic 
sensibility. A novel version of this elitism has arisen in the work of the 
philosopher Richard Rorty, in whose ideal society the intellectuals will be 
'ironists', practising a suitably cavalier, laid-back attitude to their own 
beliefs, while the masses, for whom such self-ironizing might prove too 
subversive a weapon, will continue to salute the flag and take life seriously. 12 

In this situation, it seems simpler to some theorists of ideology to drop 
the epistemological issue altogether, favouring instead a more political or 
sociological sense of ideology as the medium in which men and women 
fight out their social and political battles at the level of signs, meanings and 
representations. Even as orthodox a Marxist as Alex Callinicos urges us to 
scrap the epistemological elements in Marx's own theory of ideology, 13 while 
Goran Therborn is equally emphatic that ideas of false and true conscious- 
ness should be rejected 'explicitly and decisively, once and for all'. 14 Martin 
Seliger wants to discard this negative or pejorative meaning of ideology 
altogether, 15 while Rosalind Coward and John Ellis, writing in a period when 
the 'false consciousness' thesis was at the height of its unpopularity, 
peremptorily dismiss the idea as 'ludicrous'. 16 

To argue for a 'political' rather than 'epistemological' definition of 
ideology is not of course to claim that politics and ideology are identical. 
One way one might think of distinguishing them is to suggest that politics 
refers to the power processes by which social orders are sustained or 
challenged, whereas ideology denotes the ways in which these power 
processes get caught up in the realm of signification. This won't quite do, 
however, since politics has its own sort of signification, which need not 
necessarily be ideological. To state that there is a constitutional monarchy in 
Britain is a political pronouncement; it becomes ideological only when it 
begins to involve beliefs - when, for example, it carries the implicit rider 
'and a good thing too'. Since this usually only needs to be said when there are 
people around who consider it a bad thing, we can suggest that ideology 
concerns less signification than conflicts within the field of signification. If 
the members of a dissident political group say to each other, 'We can bring 
down the government', this is a piece of political discourse; if they say it to 



the government it becomes instantly ideological (in the expanded sense of 
the term), since the utterance has now entered into the arena of discursive 

There are several reasons why the 'false consciousness' view of ideology 
seems unconvincing. One of them has to do with what we might call the 
moderate rationality of human beings in general, and is perhaps more the 
expression of a political faith than a conclusive argument. Aristotle held that 
there was an element of truth in most beliefs; and though we have witnessed 
enough pathological irrationalism in the politics of our own century to be 
nervous of any too sanguine trust in some robust human rationality, it is 
surely hard to credit that whole masses of human beings would hold over 
some extensive historical period ideas and beliefs which were simply 
nonsensical. Deeply persistent beliefs have to be supported to some extent, 
however meagrely, by the world our practical activity discloses to us; and to 
believe that immense numbers of people would live and sometimes die in 
the name of ideas which were absolutely vacuous and absurd is to take up an 
unpleasantly demeaning attitude towards ordinary men and women. It is a 
typically conservative estimate of human beings to see them as sunk in 
irrational prejudice, incapable of reasoning coherently, and it is a more 
radical attitude to hold that while we may indeed be afflicted by all sorts of 
mystifications, some of which might even be endemic to the mind itself, we 
nevertheless have some capacity for making sense of our world in a 
moderately cogent way. If human beings really were gullible and benighted 
enough to place their faith in great numbers in ideas which were utterly void 
of meaning then we might reasonably ask whether such people were worth 
politically supporting at all. If they are that credulous, how could they ever 
hope to emancipate themselves? 

It follows from this view that if we come across a body of, say, magical or 
mythological or religious doctrine to which many people have committed 
themselves, we can often be reasonably sure that there is something in it 
"What that something is may not be, for sure, what the exponents of such 
creeds believe it to be; but it is unlikely to be a mere nonsense either. Simply 
on account of the pervasiveness and durability of such doctrines, we can 
generally assume that they encode, in however mystified a way, genuine 
needs and desires. It is false to believe that the sun moves round the earth, 
but it is not absurd; and neither is it absurd to hold that justice demands 
sending electric currents through the bodies of murderers. There is nothing 
ridiculous in claiming that some people are inferior to others, since it is 


What b Ideology? 

obviously true. In certain definite respects, some individuals are indeed 
inferior to others: less good-tempered, more prone to envy, slower in the 
fifty-yard dash It may be false and pernicious to generalize these particular 
inequalities to whole races or classes of people, but we can understand well 
enough the logic by which this comes about. It may be wrong to believe that 
the human race is in such a mess that it can be saved only by some 
transcendental power, but the feelings of impotence, guilt and Utopian 
aspiration which such a dogma encapsulates are by no means illusory. 

A further point can be made here. However widespread 'false conscious- 
ness' may be in social life, it can nevertheless be claimed that most of what 
people say most of the time about the world must in fact be true. This, for 
the philosopher Donald Davidson, is a logical rather than an empirical 
point. For unless, so Davidson argues, we are able to assume that most 
people's observations are most of the time accurate, there would be an 
insuperable difficulty in ever getting to understand their language. And the 
fact is that we do seem to be able to translate the languages of other cultures. 
As one of Davidson's commentators formulates this so-called principle of 
charity: 'If we think we understand what people say, we must also regard 
most of our observations about the world we live in as correct." 7 Many of the 
utterances in question are of a fairly trivial sort, and we should not under- 
estimate the power of common illusion: a recent opinion poll revealed that 
one in three Britons believes that the sun moves round the earth, and one in 
seven holds that the solar system is larger than the universe. As far as our 
routine social life goes, however, we just could not in Davidson's view be 
mistaken most of the time. Our practical knowledge must be mostly 
accurate, since otherwise our world would fall apart. Whether or not the 
solar system is bigger than the universe plays little part in our daily social 
activities, and so is a point on which we can afford to be mistaken. At a fairly 
low level, individuals who share the same social practices must most of the 
time understand one another correctly, even if a small minority of them in 
universities spend their time agonizing over the indeterminacy of discourse. 
Those who quite properly emphasize that language is a terrain of conflict 
sometimes forget that conflict presupposes a degree of mutual agreement: 
we are not politically conflicting if you hold that patriarchy is an objection- 
able social system and I hold that it is a small town in upper New York state. 
A certain practical solidarity is built into the structures of any shared 
language, however much that language may be traversed by the divisions of 
class, gender and race. Radicals who regard such a view as dangerously 



sanguine, expressive of too naive a faith in 'ordinary language', forget that 
such practical solidarity and reliability of cognition are testimony to that 
basic realism and intelligence of popular life which is so unpalatable to the 

What Davidson may be accused of overlooking, however, is that form of 
'systematically distorted communication' which for Jiirgen Habermas goes 
by the name of ideology. Davidson argues that when native speakers 
repeatedly point at a rabbit and utter a sound, this act of denotation must for 
most of the time be accurate, otherwise we could never come to learn the 
native word for rabbit, or - by extension - anything else in their language. 
Imagine, however, a society which uses the word 'duty' every time a man 
beats his wife. Or imagine an outside observer in our own culture who, 
having picked up our linguistic habits, was asked by his fellows on returning 
home for our word for domination, and replied 'service'. Davidson's theory 
fails to take account of these systematic deviations - though it does perhaps 
establish that in order to be able to decipher an ideological system of 
discourse, we must already be in possession of the normative, undistorted 
uses of terms. The wife-beating society must use the word 'duty' a sufficient 
number of times in an appropriate context for us to be able to spot an 
ideological 'abuse'. 

Even if it is true that most of the ideas by which people have lived are not 
simply nonsensical, it is not clear that this charitable stance is quite enough 
to dispose of the 'false consciousness' thesis. For those who hold that thesis 
do not need to deny that certain kinds of illusion can express real needs and 
desires. All they may be claiming is that it is false to believe that murderers 
should be executed, or that the Archangel Gabriel is preparing to put in an 
appearance next Tuesday, and that these falsehoods are significantly bound 
up with the reproduction of a dominant political power. There need be no 
implication that people do not regard themselves as having good grounds 
for holding these beliefs; the point may simply be that what they believe is 
manifestly not the case, and that this is a matter of relevance to political 

Part of the opposition to the 'false consciousness' case stems from the 
accurate claim that, in order to be truly effective, ideologies must make at 
least some minimal sense of people's experience, must conform to some 
degree with what they know of social reality from their practical interaction 
with it As Jon Elster reminds us, ruling ideologies can actively shape the 
wants and desires of those subjected to them; 18 but they must also engage 


What Is Ideology? 

significantly with the wants and desires that people already have, catching 
up genuine hopes and needs, reinflecting them in their own peculiar idiom, 
and feeding them back to their subjects in ways which render these ideo- 
logies plausible and attractive. They must be 'real' enough to provide the 
basis on which individuals can fashion a coherent identity, must furnish 
some solid motivations for effective action, and must make at least some 
feeble attempt to explain away their own more flagrant contradictions and 
incoherencies. In short, successful ideologies must be more than imposed 
illusions, and for all their inconsistencies must communicate to their 
subjects a version of social reality which is real and recognizable enough not 
to be simply rejected out of hand. They may, for example, be true enough in 
what they assert but false in what they deny, as John Stuart Mill considered 
almost all social theories to be. Any ruling ideology which failed altogether 
to mesh with its subjects' lived experience would be extremely vulnerable, 
and its exponents would be well advised to trade it in for another. But none 
of this contradicts the fact that ideologies quite often contain important 
propositions which are absolutely false: that Jews are inferior beings, that 
women are less rational than men, that fornicators will be condemned to 
perpetual torment. 19 If these views are not instances of false consciousness, 
then it is difficult to know what is; and those who dismiss the whole notion 
of false consciousness must be careful not to appear cavalier about the 
offensiveness of these opinions. If the 'false consciousness' case commits one 
to the view that ideology is simply unreal, a fantasy entirely disconnected 
from social reality, then it is difficult to know who, these days at least, 
actually subscribes to such a standpoint. If, on the other hand, it does no 
more than assert that there are some quite central ideological utterances 
which are manifestly false, then it is equally hard to see how anybody could 
deny this. The real question, perhaps, is not whether one denies this, but 
what role one ascribes to such falsehood in one's theory of ideology as a 
whole. Are false representations of social reality somehow constitutive of 
ideology, or more contingent to it? 

One reason why ideology would not seem to be a matter of false 
consciousness is that many statements which people might agree to be 
ideological are obviously true. 'Prince Charles is a thoughtful, conscientious 
fellow, not hideously ugly' is true, but most people who thought it worth 
saying would no doubt be using the statement in some way to buttress the 
power of royalty. 'Prince Andrew is more intelligent than a hamster' is also 
probably true, if somewhat more controversial; but the effect of such a 



pronouncement (if one ignores the irony) is again likely to be ideological in 
the sense of helping to legitimate a dominant power. This, however, may not 
be enough to answer those who hold that ideology is in general falsifying. 
For it can always be argued that while such utterances are empirically true, 
they are false in some deeper, more fundamental way. It is true that Prince 
Charles is reasonably conscientious, but it is not true that royalty is a desir- 
able institution. Imagine a management spokesperson announcing that 'If 
this strike continues, people will be dying in the streets for lack of 
ambulances.* This might well be true, as opposed to a claim that they will be 
dying of boredom for lack of newspapers; but a striking worker might 
nevertheless see the spokesperson as a twister, since the^orce of the observa- 
tion is probably 'Get back to work', and there is no reason to assume that 
this, under the circumstances, would be the most reasonable thing to do. To 
say that the statement is ideological is then to claim that it is powered by an 
ulterior motive bound up with the legitimation of certain interests in a 
power struggle. We might say that the spokesperson's comment is true as a 
piece of language, but not as a piece of discourse. It describes a possible 
situation accurately enough; but as a rhetorical act aimed at producing 
certain effects it is false, and this in two senses. It is false because it involves a 
kind of deception - the spokesperson is not really saying what he or she 
means; and it carries with it an implication - that getting back to work 
would be the most constructive action to take - which may well not be the 

Other types of ideological enunciation are true in what they affirm but 
false in what they exclude. This land of liberty', spoken by an American 
politician, may be true enough if one has in mind the freedom to practise 
one's religion or turn a fast buck, but not if one considers the freedom to live 
without the fear of being mugged or to announce on prime-time television 
that the president is a murderer. Other kinds of ideological statement 
involve falsity without either necessarily intending to deceive or being 
significantly exclusive: Tm British and proud of it', for example. Both parts 
of this observation may be true, but it implies that being British is a virtue in 
itself, which is false. Note that what is involved here is less deception than 
self-deception, or delusion. A comment like 'If we allow Pakistanis to live in 
our street, the house prices will fall' may well be true, but it may involve the 
assumption that Pakistanis are inferior beings, which is false. 

It would seem, then, that some at least of what we call ideological 
discourse is true at one level but not at another true in its empirical content 


What Is Ideology? 

but deceptive in its force, or true in its surface meaning but false in its 
underlying assumptions. And to tbis extent tbe 'false consciousness' tbesis 
need not be significantly sbaken by tbe recognition tbat not all ideological 
language characterizes the world in erroneous ways. To speak, however, of 
'false assumptions' broaches a momentous topic. For someone might argue 
that a statement like 'Being British is a virtue in itself is not false in the same 
sense that it is false to believe that Ghengis Khan is alive and well and 
running a boutique in the Bronx. Is not this just to confuse two different 
meanings of the word 'false? J may happen not to believe that being British 
is a virtue in itself; but this is just my opinion, and is surely not on a level 
with declarations like 'Paris is the capital of Afghanistan', which everyone 
would agree to be factually untrue. 

What side you take up in this debate depends on whether or not you are 
a moral realist 20 One kind of opponent of moral realism wants to hold that 
our discourse divides into two distinct kinds: those speech acts which aim to 
describe the way things are, which involve criteria of truth and falsity; and 
those which express evaluations and prescriptions, which do not. On this 
view, cognitive language is one thing and normative or prescriptive language 
quite another. A moral realist, by contrast, refuses this binary opposition of 
'fact' and 'value' (which has in fact deep roots in bourgeois philosophical 
history), and 'denies that we can draw any intelligible distinction between 
those parts of assertoric discourse which do, and those which do not, 
genuinely describe reality'. 21 On this theory, it is mistaken to think that our 
language separates out into steel-hard objectivism and soggy subjectivism, 
into a realm of indubitable physical facts and a sphere of precariously 
floating values. Moral judgements are as much candidates for rational 
argumentation as are the more obviously descriptive parts of our speech. For 
a realist, such normative statements purport to describe what is the case: 
there are 'moral facts' as well as physical ones, about which our judgements 
can be said to be either true or false. That Jews are inferior beings is quite as 
false as that Paris is the capital of Afghanistan; it isn't just a question of my 
private opinion or of some ethical posture I decide to assume towards the 
world. To declare that South Africa is a racist society is not just a more 
imposing way of saying that I happen not to like the set-up in South Africa. 

One reason why moral judgements do not seem to us as solid as judge- 
ments about the physical world is that we live in a society where there are 
fundamental conflicts of value. Indeed the only moral case which the liberal 
pluralist would rule out is one which would interfere with this free market 



in values. Because we cannot agree at a fundamental level, it is tempting to 
believe that values are somehow free-floating - that moral judgements 
cannot be subject to criteria of truth and falsehood because these criteria are 
as a matter of fact in considerable disarray. We can be reasonably sure about 
whether Abraham Lincoln was taller than four feet, but not about whether 
there are circumstances in which it is permissible to kill. The fact that we 
cannot currently arrive at any consensus on this matter, however, is no 
reason to assume that it is just a question of some unarguable personal 
option or intuition. Whether or not one is a moral realist, then, will make a 
difference to one's assessment of how far ideological language involves false- 
hood. A moral realist will not be persuaded out of the 'false consciousness' 
case just because it can be shown that some ideological proposition is 
empirically true, since that proposition might always be shown to encode a 
normative claim that was in fact false. 

All of this has a relevance to the widely influential theory of ideology 
proposed by the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. For Althusser, 
one can speak of descriptions or representations of the world as being either 
true or false; but ideology is not for him at root a matter of such descriptions 
at all, and criteria of truth and falsehood are thus largely irrelevant to it. 
Ideology for Althusser does indeed represent - but what it represents is the 
way I 'live' my relations to society as a whole, which cannot be said to be a 
question of truth or falsehood. Ideology for Althusser is a particular organ- 
ization of signifying practices which goes to constitute human beings as 
social subjects, and which produces the lived relations by which such 
subjects are connected to the dominant relations of production in a society. 
As a term, it covers all the various political modalities of such relations, from 
an identification with the dominant power to an oppositional stance towards 
it. Though Althusser thus adopts the broader sense of ideology we have 
examined, his thinking about the topic, as we shall see later, is covertly 
constrained by an attention to the narrower sense of ideology as a dominant 

There is no doubt that Althusser strikes a lethal blow at any purely 
rationalistic theory of ideology - at the notion that it consists simply of a 
collection of distorting representations of reality and empirically false 
propositions. On the contrary, ideology for Althusser alludes in the main to 
our affective, unconscious relations with the world, to the ways in which we 
are pre-reflectively bound up in social reality. It is a matter of how that 
reality 'strikes' us in the form of apparently spontaneous experience, of the 


What Is Ideology? 

ways in which human subjects are ceaselessly at stake in it, investing in their 
relations to social life as a crucial part of what it is to be themselves. One 
might say that ideology, rather like poetry for the literary critic LA. Richards, 
is less a matter of propositions than of 'pseudo-propositions'. 22 It appears 
often enough on its grammatical surface to be referential (descriptive of 
states of affairs) while being secretly 'emotive' (expressive of the lived reality 
of human subjects) or 'conative' (directed towards the achievement of 
certain effects). If this is so, then it would seem that there is a kind of slipper- 
iness or duplicity built into ideological language, rather of the kind that 
Immanuel Kant thought he had discovered in the nature of aesthetic judge- 
ments. 23 Ideology, Althusser claims, 'expresses a will, a hope or a nostalgia, 
rather than describing a reality'; 24 it is fundamentally a matter of fearing and 
denouncing, reverencing and reviling, all of which then sometimes gets 
coded into a discourse which looks as though it is describing the way things 
actually are. It is thus, in the terms of the philosopher Jl. Austin, 'performa- 
tive' rather than 'constative' language: it belongs to the class of speech acts 
which get something done (cursing, persuading, celebrating and so on) 
rather than to the discourse of description. 25 A pronouncement like 'Black is 
beautiful', popular in the days of the American civil rights movement, looks 
on the surface as though it is characterizing a state of affairs, but is in fact of 
course a rhetorical act of defiance and self-affirmation. 

Althusser tries to shift us, then, from a cognitive to an affective theory of 
ideology - which is not necessarily to deny that ideology contains certain 
cognitive elements, or to reduce it to the merely 'subjective'. It is certainly 
subjective in the sense of being subject-centred: its utterances are to be 
deciphered as expressive of a speaker's attitudes or lived relations to the 
world. But it is not a question of mere private whim. To assert that one 
doesn't like tinkers is unlikely to have the same force as asserting that one 
doesn't like tomatoes. The latter aversion may just be a private quirk; the 
former is likely to involve certain beliefs about the value of rootedness, self- 
discipline and the dignity of labour which are central to the reproduction of 
a particular social system. On the model of ideology we are examining, a 
statement like Tinkers are a flea-ridden, thieving bunch of layabouts' could 
be decoded into some such performative utterance as 'Down with tinkers!', 
and this in turn could be decoded into some such proposition as There are 
reasons connected with our relations to the dominant social order which 
make us want to denigrate these people.' It is worth noting, however, that if 
the speaker himself could effect the second decodement, he would already 



be well on the way to overcoming bis prejudice. 

Ideological statements, then, would seem to be subjective but not private; 
and in this sense too they have an affinity with Kant's aesthetic judgements, 
which are at once subjective and universal. On the one hand, ideology is no 
mere set of abstract doctrines but the stuff which makes us uniquely what 
we are, constitutive of our very identities; on the other hand, it presents itself 
as an 'Everybody knows that', a kind of anonymous universal truth. 
(Whether all ideology universalizes in this way is a question we shall take up 
later.) Ideology is a set of viewpoints I happen to hold; yet that 'happen' is 
somehow more than just fortuitous, as happening to prefer parting my hair 
down the middle is probably not. It appears often enough as a ragbag of 
impersonal, subjecdess tags and adages; yet these shop-soiled platitudes are 
deeply enough entwined with the roots of personal identity to impel us 
from time to time to murder or martyrdom. In the sphere of ideology, 
concrete particular and universal truth glide ceaselessly in and out of each 
other, by-passing the mediation of rational analysis. 

If ideology is less a matter of representations of reality than of lived 
relations, does this finally put paid to the truth/falsehood issue? One reason 
to think that it might is that it is hard to see how someone could be 
mistaken about their lived experience. I may mistake Madonna for a minor 
deity, but can I be mistaken about the feelings of awe this inspires in me? 
The answer, surely, is that I can. There is no reason to believe in a post- 
Freudian era that our lived experience need be any less ambiguous than our 
ideas. I can be as mistaken about my feelings as I can be about anything else: 
'I thought at the time I was angry, but looking back I see that I was afraid.' 
Perhaps my sensation of awe at the sight of Madonna is just a defence against 
my unconscious envy of her superior earning-power. That I am experi- 
encing something can't be doubted, any more than I can doubt that I am in 
pain; but what precisely my 'lived relations' to the social order consist in may 
be a more problematical affair than the Althusserians sometimes seem to 
think. Perhaps it is a mistake to imagine that Althusser is speaking here 
primarily of conscious experience, since our lived relations to social reality are 
for bim largely unconscious. But if our conscious experience is elusive and 
indeterminate - a point which those political radicals who appeal dogma- 
tically to 'experience' as some sort of absolute fail to recognize - then our 
unconscious life is even more so. 

There is another, rather different sense in which the categories of truth 
and falsehood may be said to apply to one's lived experience, which returns 


What Is Ideology? 

us to the issue of moral realism. I really am furious that my teenage son has 
shaved off his hair and dyed his skull a flamboyant purple, but I retain 
enough shreds of rationality to acknowledge that this feeling is 'false' - in the 
sense of being, not illusory or a self-misinterpretation, but one based upon 
false values. My anger is motivated by the false belief that teenagers ought to 
appear in public like bank managers, that they should be socially conformist 
and so on. One's lived experience may be false in the sense of 'inauthentic', 
untrue to those values which can be held to be definitive of what it is for 
human beings in a particular situation to live well. For a moral realist of 
radical persuasion, someone who believes that the highest goal in life is to 
amass as much private wealth as possible, preferably by grinding others into 
the dust, is just as much in error as someone who believes that Henry Gibson 
is the name of a Norwegian playwright 

Althusser may be right that ideology is chiefly a question of 'lived 
relations'; but there are no such relations which do not tacitly involve a set of 
beliefs and assumptions, and these beliefs and assumptions may themselves 
be open to judgements of truth and falsehood. A racist is usually someone in 
the grip of fear, hatred and insecurity, rather than someone who has dis- 
passionately arrived at certain intellectual judgements on other races, but 
even if his feelings are not motivated by such judgements, they are likely to be 
deeply entwined with them; and these judgements - that certain races are 
inferior to others, for example - are plainly false. Ideology may indeed be 
primarily a matter of performative utterances - of imperatives like 'Rule, 
Britannia!', of optatives like 'May Margaret Thatcher reign for another 
thousand years!', or interrogatives like 'Is not this nation blessed under 
heaven?' But each of these speech acts is bound up with thoroughly 
questionable assumptions: that British imperialism is an excellent thing, that 
another thousand years of Thatcher would have been a deeply desirable state 
of affairs, that there exists a supreme being with a particular interest in 
supervising the nation's progress. 

The Althusserian case need not be taken as denying that judgements of 
truth and falsehood may be at some level applicable to ideological discourse; 
it may simply be arguing that within such discourse the affective typically 
outweighs the cognitive. Or - which is a somewhat different matter - that 
the 'practico-social' takes predominance over theoretical knowledge. 
Ideologies for Althusser do contain a kind of knowledge; but they are not 
primarily cognitive, and the knowledge in question is less theoretical (which 
is strictly speaking for Althusser the only kind of knowledge there is) than 



pragmatic, one which orients the subject to its practical tasks in society. In 
fact, however, many apologists for this case have ended up effectively 
denying the relevance of truth and falsehood ro ideology altogether. Para- 
mount among such theorists in Britain has been the sociologist Paul Hirst, 
who argues that ideology cannot be a matter of false consciousness because 
it is indubitably real. 'Ideology ... is not illusion, it is not falsity, because how 
can something which has effects be false? ... It would be like saying that a 
black pudding is false, or a steamroller is false.' 26 It is easy enough to see what 
kind of logical slide is taking place here. There is a confusion between 'false' 
as meaning 'untrue to what is the case', and 'false' as meaning 'unreal'. (As if 
someone were to say: 'Lying isn't a matter of falsehood; he really did lie to 
me!') It is quite possible to hold that ideology may sometimes be false in the 
first sense, but not in the second. Hirst simply collapses the epistemological 
questions at stake here into ontological ones. It may be that I really did 
experience a group of badgers in tartan trousers nibbling my toes the other 
evening, but this was probably because of those strange chemical substances 
the local vicar administered to me, not because they were actually there. On 
Hirst's view, one would have no way of distinguishing between dreams, 
hallucinations and reality, since all of them are actually experienced and all 
of them can have real effects. Hirst's manoeuvre here recalls the dodge of 
those aestheticians who, confronted with the knotty problem of how art 
relates to reality, solemnly remind us that art is indubitably real. 

Rather than ditching the epistemological issues altogether a la Hirst, it 
might be more useful to ponder the suggestion that ideological discourse 
typically displays a certain ratio between empirical propositions and what 
we might roughly term a 'world view', in which the latter has the edge over 
the former. The closest analogy to this is perhaps a literary work. Most 
literary works contain empirical propositions; they may mention, for 
example, that there is a lot of snow in Greenland, or that human beings 
typically have two ears. But part of what is meant by 'fictionality' is that 
these statements are not usually present for their own sake; they act, rather, 
as 'supports' for the overall world view of the text itself. And the ways in 
which these empirical statements are selected and deployed is generally 
governed by this requirement. 'Constative' language, in other words, is 
harnessed to 'performative' ends; empirical truths are organized as com- 
ponents of an overall rhetoric If that rhetoric seems to demand it, a particular 
empirical truth may be bent into falsehood: a historical novel may find it 
more convenient for its suasive strategies to have Lenin live on for another 


What Is Ideology? 

decade. Similarly, a racist who believes that Asians in Britain will outnumber 
whites by the year 1995 may well not be persuaded out of his racism if he 
can be shown that this assumption is empirically false, since the proposition 
is more likely to be a support for his racism than a reason for it. If the claim 
is disproved he may simply modify it, or replace it with another, true or 
false. It is possible, then, to think of ideological discourse as a complex 
network of empirical and normative elements, within which the nature and 
organization of the former is ultimately determined by the requirements of 
the latter. And this may be one sense in which an ideological formation is 
rather like a novel. 

Once again, however, this may not be enough to dispose of the truth/ 
falsity issue, relegating it to the relatively superficial level of empirical state- 
ments. For there is still the more fundamental question of whether a Svorld 
view' may not itself be considered true or false. The anti-false-consciousness 
case would seem to hold that it is not possible to falsify an ideology, rather as 
some literary critics insist that it is not possible to falsify or verify the world 
view of a work of art. In both cases, we simply 'suspend our disbelief and 
examine the proffered way of seeing on its own terms, grasping it as a 
symbolic expression of a certain way of 'living' one's world. In some senses, 
this is surely true. If a work of literature chooses to highlight images of 
human degradation, then it would seem futile to denounce this as somehow 
incorrect. But there are surely limits to this aesthetic charity. Literary critics 
do not always accept the world view of a text 'on its own terms'; they some- 
times want to say that this vision of things is implausible, distorting, over- 
simplifying. If a literary work highlights images of disease and degradation 
to the point where it tacitly suggests that human life is entirely valueless, 
then a critic might well want to object that this is a drastically partial way of 
seeing. In this sense, a way of seeing, unlike a way of walking, is not necessar- 
ily immune to judgements of truth and falsehood, although some of its 
aspects are likely to be more immune than others. A world view will tend to 
exhibit a certain 'style* of perception, which cannot in itself be said to be 
either true or false. It is not false for Samuel Beckett to portray the world in 
spare, costive, minimalist terms. It will operate in accordance with a certain 
'grammar', a system of rules for organizing its various elements, which again 
cannot usefully be spoken of in terms of truth or falsehood. But it will also 
typically contain other sorts of component, both normative and empirical, 
which may indeed sometimes be inspected for their truth or falsity. 

Another suggestive analogy between literature and ideology may be 



gleaned from the work of the literary theorist Paul de Man. For de Man, a 
piece of writing is specifically 'literary' when its 'constative' and 'performa- 
tive' dimensions are somehow at odds with each other. 27 Literary works, in 
de Man's view, tend to 'say' one thing and 'do' another. Thus, W.B. Yeats's 
line of poetry, 'How can we know the dancer from the dance?', read literally, 
asks about how we can draw the distinction in question; but its effect as a 
rhetorical or performative piece of discourse is to suggest that such a distinc- 
tion cannot be drawn. Whether this will do as a general theory of the 
'literary' is in my view distinctly dubious; but it can be coupled with a 
certain theory of the workings of ideology, one outlined by Denys Turner. 
Turner has argued that one notable problem in the theory of ideology turns 
on the puzzle of how ideological beliefs can be said to be both 'lived' and 
false. For our lived beliefs are in some sense internal to our social practices; 
and if they are thus constitutive of those practices, they can hardly be said to 
'correspond' (or not correspond) to them. As Turner puts its: 'Since, there- 
fore, there seems to be no epistemic space between what is socially lived and 
the social ideas of it, there seems to be no room for a false relationship 
between the two.' 28 

This, surely, is one of the strongest points which the anti-false-conscious- 
ness case has going for it There cannot be a merely external or contingent 
relation between our social practices and the ideas by which we 'live' them; 
so how can these ideas, or some of them, be said to be false? Turner's own 
answer to this problem resembles de Man's case about the literary text. He 
claims that ideology consists in a 'performative contradiction', in which what 
is said is at odds with the situation or act of utterance itself. When the 
middle class preaches universal freedom from a position of domination, or 
when a teacher hectors his students at tedious length about the perils of an 
authoritarian pedagogy, we have 'a contradiction between a meaning 
conveyed explicitly and a meaning conveyed by the act itself of conveying', 29 
which for Turner is the essential structure of all ideology. Whether this in 
fact covers all that we call ideological practice is perhaps as doubtful as 
whether de Man's case covers all that we call literature; but it is an illumin- 
ating account of a particular kind of ideological act 

So far we have been considering the role within ideology of what might 
be called epistemic falsehood. But as Raymond Geuss has argued, there are 
two other forms of falsity highly relevant to ideological consciousness, 
which can be termed functional and genetic 3 " False consciousness may mean 
not that a body of ideas is actually untrue, but that these ideas are functional 


What Is Ideology? 

for the maintenance of an oppressive power, and that those who hold them 
are ignorant of this fact. Similarly, a belief may not be false in itself, but may 
spring from some discreditable ulterior motive of which those who hold it 
are unaware. As Geuss summarizes the point: consciousness may be false 
because it 'incorporates beliefs which are false, or because it functions in a 
reprehensible way, $r because it has a tainted origin'.- 11 Epistemic, functional 
and genetic forms of false consciousness may go together, as when a false 
belief which -rationalizes some disreputable social motive proves useful in 
promoting the unjust interests of a dominant power; but other permutations 
are also possible. There may, for example, be no inherent connection 
between the falsity of a belief and its functionality for an oppressive power, a 
true belief might have done just as well. A set of ideas, whether true or false, 
may be 'unconsciously' motivated by the selfish interests of a ruling group, 
but may in fact prove dysfunctional for the promotion or legitimation of 
those interests. A fatalistic group of oppressed individuals may not recognize 
that their fatalism is an unconscious rationalization of their wretched 
conditions, but this fatalism may well not prove serviceable for their 
interests. It might, on the other hand, prove functional for the interests of 
their rulers, in which case a 'genetic' false consciousness on the part of one 
social class becomes functional for the interests of another. Beliefs functional 
for a social group, in other words, need not be motivated from within that 
group, but may, so to speak, just fall into its lap. Forms of consciousness 
functional for one social class may also prove functional for another whose 
interests are in conflict with it. As far as 'genetic' falsity goes, the fact that the 
true underlying motivation of a set of beliefs sometimes must be concealed 
from view is enough to cast doubt on its reputability; but to hold that the 
beliefs which disguise this motive must be false simply on account of their 
contaminated origin would be an instance of the genetic fallacy. From a 
radical political viewpoint, there may be positive kinds of unconscious 
motivation and positive forms of functionality: socialists will tend to 
approve of forms of consciousness which however displacedly, express the 
underlying interests of the working class, or which actively help to promote 
, those interests. The fact that a motivation is concealed, in other words, is not 
enough in itself to suggest falsity; the question is rather one of what sort of 
motivation it is, and whether it is of the kind that has to remain hidden from 
view. Finally, we can note that a body of beliefs may be false but rational, in 
the sense of internally coherent, consistent with the available evidence and 
held on what appear to be plausible grounds. The fact that ideology is not at 



root a matter of reason does not license us to equate it with irration- 

Let us take stock of some of the argument so far. Those who oppose the idea 
of ideology as false consciousness are right to see that ideology is no baseless 
illusion but a solid reality, an active material force which must have at least 
enough cognitive content to help organize the practical lives of human 
beings. It does not consist primarily in a set of propositions about the world; 
and many of the propositions it does advance are actually true. None of this, 
however, need be denied by those who hold that ideology often or typically 
involves falsity, distortion and mystification. Even if ideology is largely a 
matter of 'lived relations', those relations, at least in certain social conditibns, 
would often seem to involve claims and beliefs which are untrue. As Tony 
Skillen scathingly inquires of those who reject this case: 'Sexist ideologies do 
not (distortingly) represent women as naturally inferior? Racist ideologies do 
not confine non-whites to perpetual savagery? Religious ideologies do not 
represent the world as the creation of gods?' 32 

It does not follow from this, however, that all ideological language 
necessarily involves falsehood. It is quite possible for a ruling order to make 
pronouncements which are ideological in the sense of buttressing its own 
power, but which are in no sense false. And if we extend the term ideology 
to include oppositional political movements, then radicals at least would 
want to hold that many of their utterances, while ideological in the sense of 
promoting their power-interests, are nonetheless true, This is not to suggest 
that such movements may not also engage in distortion and mystification. 
'Workers of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains' is in 
one sense obviously false; workers have a good deal to lose by political 
militancy, not least, in some cases, their lives. The West is a paper tiger', 
Mao's celebrated slogan, is dangerously misleading and triumphalist. 

Nor is it the case that all commitment to the dominant social order 
involves some sort of delusion. Someone might have a perfectly adequate 
understanding of the mechanisms of capitalist exploitation, but conclude 
that this kind of society, while unjust and oppressive, is on the whole prefer- 
able to any likely alternative. From a socialist viewpoint, such a person is 
mistaken; but it is hard to call them deluded, in the sense of systematically 
misinterpreting the real situation. There is a difference between being 
mistaken and being deluded: if someone lifts a cucumber and announces his 
telephone number we may. conclude that he has made a mistake, whereas if 


What Is Ideology? 

he spends long evenings charring vivaciously into a cucumber we might 
have to draw different conclusions. There is also the case of the person who 
commits himself to the ruling social order on entirely cynical grounds. 
Someone who urges you to get rich quick may be promoting capitalist 
values; but he may not necessarily be legitimating these values. Perhaps he 
simply believes that in a corrupt world you might as well pursue your own 
self-interest along with everyone else. A man might appreciate the justice of 
the feminist cause, but simply refuse to surrender his male privilege. It is 
unwise, in other words, to assume that dominant groups are always victims 
of their own propaganda; there is the condition which Peter Sloterdijk calls 
'enlightened false consciousness', which lives by false values but is ironically 
aware of doing so, and so which can hardly be said to be mystified in the 
traditional sense of the term. 33 

If dominant ideologies very often involve falsity, however, it is pardy 
because most people are not in fact cynics. Imagine a society in which every- 
body was either a cynic or a masochist, or both. In such a situation there 
would be no need for ideology, in the sense of a set of discourses concealing 
or legitimating injustice, because the masochists would not mind their 
suffering and the cynics would feel no unease about inhabiting an exploita- 
tive social order. In fact, the majority of people have a fairly sharp eye to 
their own rights and interests, and most people feel uncomfortable at the 
thought of belonging to a seriously unjust form of life. Either, then, they 
must believe that these injustices are en route to being amended, or that they 
are counterbalanced by greater benefits, or that they are inevitable, or that 
they are not really injustices at all. It is part of the function of a dominant 
ideology to inculcate such beliefs. It can do this either by falsifying social 
reality, suppressing and excluding certain unwelcome features of it, or 
suggesting that these features cannot be avoided. This last strategy is of 
interest from the viewpoint of the truth/falsity problem. For it may be true 
of the present system that, say, a degree of unemployment is inevitable, but 
not of some future alternative. Ideological statements may be true to society 
as at present constituted, but false in so far as they thereby serve to block off 
the possibility of a transformed state of affairs. The very truth of such state- 
ments is also the falsehood of their implicit denial that anything better could 
be conceived. 

If ideology is sometimes falsifying, then, it is for what are on the whole 
rather hopeful reasons: the fact that most people react strongly to being 
unjustly treated, and that most people would like to believe that they live in 



reasonably just social conditions. It is strange in this light for some radicals 
to argue that deception and concealment play no part in a dominant 
ideological discourse, since to be a political radical commits one to the view 
that the current social order is marked by serious injustices. And no ruling 
class concerned with preserving its credibility can afford to acknowledge 
that these injustices could only be rectified by a political transformation 
which would put it out of business. If, then, ideology sometimes involves 
distortion and mystification, it is less because of something inherent in 
ideological language than because of something inherent in the social struc- 
ture to which that language belongs. There are certain kinds of interests 
which can secure their sway only by practising duplicity, but this is not to 
claim on the other hand that all of the statements used to promote those 
interests will be duplicitous. Ideology, in other words, is not inherently 
constituted by distortion, especially if we take the broader view of the 
concept as denoting any fairly central conjuncture between discourse and 
power. In an entirely just society, there would be no need for ideology in the 
pejorative sense since there would be nothing to explain away. 

It is possible to define ideology in roughly six different ways, in a 
progressive sharpening of focus. We can mean by it, first, the general 
material process of production of ideas, beliefs and values in social life. Such 
a definition is both politically and epistemologically neutral, and is close to 
the broader meaning of the term 'culture'. Ideology, or culture, would here 
denote the whole complex of signifying practices and symbolic processes in 
a particular society, it would allude to the way individuals lived' their social 
practices, rather than to those practices themselves, which would be the 
preserve of politics, economics, kinship theory and so on. This sense of 
ideology is wider than the sense of 'culture' which confines itself to artistic 
and intellectual work of agreed value, but narrower than the anthropological 
definition of culture, which would encompass all of the practices and 
institutions of a form of life. 'Culture' in this anthropological sense would 
include, for example, the financial infrastructure of sport, whereas ideology 
would concern itself more particularly with the signs, meanings and values 
encoded in sporting activities. 

This most general of all meanings of ideology stresses the social deter- 
mination of thought, thus providing a valuable antidote to idealism; but 
otherwise it would seem unworkably broad and suspiciously silent on the 
question of political conflict Ideology means more than just, say, the signify- 
ing practices associated by a society with food; it involves the relations 


What h Ideology? 

between these signs and processes of political power. It is not coextensive 
with the general field of 'culture', but lights up this field from a particular 

A second, slightly less general meaning of ideology turns on ideas and 
beliefs (whether true or false) which symbolize the conditions and life- 
experiences of a specific, socially significant group or class. The qualification 
'socially significant' is needed here, since it would seem odd to speak of the 
ideas and beliefs of four regular drinking companions or of the Sixth Form 
at Manchester Grammar School as an ideology all of its own. 'Ideology' is 
here very close to the idea of a 'world view', though it can be claimed that 
world views are usually preoccupied with fundamental matters such as the 
meaning of death or humanity's place in the universe, whereas ideology 
might extend to such issues as which colour to paint the mail-boxes. 

To see ideology as a kind of collective symbolic self-expression is not yet 
to see it in relational or conflictive terms; so there might seem to be a need 
for a third definition of the term, which attends to the promotion and 
legitimation of the interests of such social groups in the face of opposing 
interests. Not all such promotions of group interests are usually dubbed 
ideological: it is not particularly ideological for the army to request the 
Ministry of Defence to supply it on aesthetic grounds with flared trousers 
rather than with straight ones. The interests in question must have some 
relevance to the sustaining or challenging of a whole political form of life. 
Ideology can here be seen as a discursive field in which self-promoting social 
powers conflict and collide over questions central to the reproduction of 
social power as a whole. This definition may entail the assumption that 
ideology is a peculiarly 'action-oriented' discourse, in which contemplative 
cognition is generally subordinated to the futherance of 'arationar interests 
and desires. It is doubtless for this reason that to speak 'ideologically' has 
sometimes in the popular mind a ring of distasteful opportunism about it, 
suggesting a readiness to sacrifice truth to less reputable goals. Ideology 
appears here as a suasive or rhetorical rather than veridical kind of speech, 
concerned less with the situation 'as it is' than with the production of certain 
useful effects for political purposes. It is ironic, then, that ideology is 
regarded by some as too pragmatic and by others as not pragmatic enough, 
as too absolutist, otherworldly and inflexible. 

A fourth meaning of ideology would retain this emphasis on the promo- 
tion and legitimation of sectoral interests, but confine it to the activities of a 
dominant social power. This may involve the assumption that such 



dominant ideologies help to unify a social formation in ways convenient for 
its rulers; that it is not simply a matter of imposing ideas from above but of 
securing the complicity of subordinated classes and groups, and so on. We 
shall be examining these assumptions more closely later on. But this 
meaning of ideology is still epistemologically neutral and can thus be 
refined further into a fifth definition, in which ideology signifies ideas and 
beliefs which help to legitimate the interests of a ruling group or class 
specifically by distortion and dissimulation. Note that on these last two 
definitions, not all of the ideas of a ruling group need be said to be ideo- 
logical, in that some of them may not particularly promote its interests, and 
some of them may not do so by the use of deception. Note also that on this 
last definition it is hard to know what to call a politically oppositional 
discourse which promotes and seeks to legitimate the interests of a sub- 
ordinate group or class by such devices as the 'naturalizing', universalizing 
and cloaking of its real interests. 

There is, finally, the possibility of a sixth meaning of ideology, which 
retains an emphasis on false or deceptive beliefs but regards such beliefs as 
arising not from the interests of a dominant class but from the material 
structure of society as a whole. The term ideology remains pejorative, but a 
class-generic account of it is avoided. The most celebrated instance of this 
sense of ideology, as we shall see, is Marx's theory of the fetishism of 

We can return finally to the question of ideology as 'lived relations' rather 
than empirical representations. If this is true, then certain important 
political consequences follow from this view. It follows, for instance, that 
ideology cannot be substantially transformed by offering individuals true 
descriptions in place of false ones - that it is not in this sense simply a 
mistake. We would not call a form of consciousness ideological just because it 
was in factual error, no matter how deeply erroneous it was. To speak of 
'ideological error' is to speak of an error with particular kinds of causes and 
functions. A transformation of our lived relations to reality could be secured 
only by a material change in that reality itself To deny that ideology is 
primarily a matter of empirical representations, then, goes along with a 
materialist theory of how it operates, and of how it might be changed. At the 
same time, it is important not to react so violently against a rationalistic 
theory of ideology as to abstain from trying to put people right on matters of 
fact. If someone really does believe that all childless women are thwarted and 
embittered, introducing him to as many ecstatic childfree women as possible 


What k Ideology? 

might just persuade him to change his mind. To deny that ideology is 
fundamentally an affair of reason is not to conclude that it is immune to 
rational considerations altogether. And 'reason' here would mean something 
like: the kind of discourse that would result from as many people as possible 
actively participating in a discussion of these matters in conditions as free as 
possible from domination. 


Strateg ies 

BEFORE advancing any further, it may be as well to ask whether the topic of 
ideology really merits the attention we are lavishing upon it. Are ideas really 
so important for political power? Most theories of ideology have arisen from 
within the materialist tradition of thought, and it belongs to such material- 
ism to be sceptical of assigning any very high priority to 'consciousness' 
within social life. Certainly, for a materialist theory, consciousness alone 
cannot initiate any epochal change in history, and there may therefore be 
thought to be something self-contradictory about such materialism 
doggedly devoting itself to an inquiry into signs, meanings and values. 

A good example of the limited power of consciousness in social life is the 
so-called Thatcherite revolution. The aim of Thatcherism has been not only 
to transform the economic and political landscape of Britain, but to effect an 
upheaval in ideological values too. This consists in converting the moder- 
ately pleasant people who populated the country when Thatcher first 
arrived in Downing Street into a thoroughly nasty bunch of callous, self- 
seeking oafs. Unless most of the British have become completely hideous 
and disgusting characters, Thatcherism has failed in its aims. Yet all the 
evidence would suggest that the Thatcherite revolution has not occurred. 
Opinion polls reveal that most of the British people stubbornly continue to 
adhere to the vaguely social democratic values they espoused before 
Thatcher assumed office. Whatever it was that kept her in Downing Street, 



then, it cannot primarily have been ideology. Thatcher was not where she 
was because the British people loyally identified with her values; she was 
where she was despite the fact that they did not. If there is indeed a 'domi- 
nant ideology' in contemporary Britain, it does not appear to be particularly 

How then did Thatcher secure her power? The true answers may be a 
good deal more mundane than any talk of 'hegemonic discourses'. She was 
Prime Minister partly on account of the eccentricities of the British electoral 
system, which can put a government rejected by most of the electorate into 
power. She set out from the beginning to break the power of organized 
labour by deliberately fostering massive unemployment, thus temporarily 
demoralizing a traditionally militant working-class movement. She succeeded 
in winning the support of an electorally crucial skilled stratum of the 
working class. She traded upon the weak, disorganized nature of the political 
opposition, exploited the cynicism, apathy and masochism of some of the 
British people, and bestowed material benefits on those whose support she 
required. All of these moves are caught up in ideological hectoring of one 
kind or another; but none of them is reducible to the question of ideology. 

If people do not actively combat a political regime which oppresses them, 
it may not be because they have meekly imbibed its governing values. It may 
be because they are too exhausted after a hard day's work to have much 
energy left to engage in political activity, or because they are too fatalistic or 
apathetic to see the point of such activity. They may be frightened of the 
consequences of opposing the regime; or they may spend too much time 
worrying about their jobs and mortgages and income tax returns to give it 
much thought. Ruling classes have at their disposal a great many such 
techniques of 'negative' social control, which are a good deal more prosaic 
and material than persuading their subjects that they belong to a master race 
or exhorting them to identify with the destiny of the nation. 

In advanced capitalist societies, the communications media are often felt 
to be a potent means by which a dominant ideology is disseminated; but this 
assumption should not go unquestioned. It is true that many of the British 
working class read right-wing Tory newspapers; but research indicates that a 
good proportion of these readers are either indifferent or actively hostile to 
the politics of these journals. Many people spend most of their leisure time 
watching television; but if watching television does benefit the ruling class, it 
may not be chiefly because it helps to convey its own ideology to a docile 
populace. What is politically important about television is probably less its 


Ideological Strategies 

ideological content than the act of watching it. Watching television for long 
stretches confirms individuals in passive, isolated, privatized roles, and 
consumes a good deal of time that could be put to productive political uses. 
It is more a form of social control than an ideological apparatus. 

This sceptical view of the centraliry of ideology in modern society finds 
expression in The Dominant Ideology Thesis (1980), by the sociologists N. 
Abercrombie, S. Hill and B.S. Turner. Abercrombie and his colleagues are 
not out to deny that dominant ideologies exist; but they doubt that they are 
an important means for lending cohesion to a society. Such ideologies may 
effectively unify the dominant class; but they are usually much less 
successful, so they argue, in infiltrating the consciousness of their sub- 
ordinates. In feudalist and early capitalist societies, for example, the mechan- 
isms for transmitting such ideologies to the masses were notably weak; there 
were no communications media or institutions of popular education, and 
many of the people were illiterate. Such channels of transmission do of 
course flourish in late capitalism; but the conclusion that the subaltern 
classes have thus been massively incorporated into the world view of their 
rulers is one which Abercrombie, Hill and Turner see fit to challenge. For 
one thing, they argue, the dominant ideology in advanced capitalist societies 
is internally fissured and contradictory, offering no kind of seamless unity 
for the masses to internalize; and for another thing the culture of dominated 
groups and classes retains a good deal of autonomy. The everyday discourses 
of these classes, so the authors claim, is formed largely outside the control of 
the ruling class, and embodies significant beliefs and values at odds with it. 

What then does secure the cohesion of such social formations? Aber- 
crombie et a/.'s first response to this query is to deny that such cohesion 
exists; the advanced capitalist order is in no sense a successfully achieved 
unity, riven as it is by major conflicts and contradictions. But in so far as the 
consent of the dominated to their masters is won at all, it is achieved much 
more by economic than by ideological means. What Marx once called 'the 
dull compulsion of the economic' is enough to keep men and women in 
their places; and such strategies as reformism - the ability of the capitalist 
system to yield tangible benefits to some at least of its underlings - are more 
crucial in this respect than any ideological complicity between the workers 
and their bosses. Moreover, if the system survives, it is more on account of 
social divisions between the various groups it exploits than by virtue of some 
overall ideological coherence. There is no need for those groups to endorse 
or internalize dominant ideological values, as long as they do more or less 



what is required of them. Indeed most oppressed peoples throughout history 
have signally not granted their rulers such credence: governments have been 
more endured than admired. 

The Dominant Ideology Thesis represents a valuable corrective to a left 
idealism which would overestimate the significance of culture and ideology 
for the maintenance of political power. Such 'culturalism', pervasive 
throughout the 1970s, was itself a reaction to an earlier Marxist economism 
(or economic reductionism); but in the view of Abercrombie and his co- 
authors it bent the stick too far in the other direction. When one em- 
phasizes, as Jacques Derrida once remarked, one always overemphasizes. 
Marxist intellectuals trade in ideas, and so are always chronically likely to 
overrate their importance in society as a whole. There is nothing crudely 
economistic in claiming that what keeps people politically quiescent is less 
transcendental signifiers than a concern over their wage packets. By contrast 
with the patrician gloom of the late Frankfurt School, this case accords a 
healthy degree of respect to the experience of the exploited: there is no 
reason to assume that their political docility signals some gullible, full- 
blooded adherence to the doctrines of their superiors. It may signal rather a 
coolly realistic sense that political militancy, in a period when the capitalist 
system is still capable of conceding some material advantages to those who 
keep it in business, might be perilous and ill-advised. But if the system ceases 
to yield such benefits, then this same realism might well lead to revolt, since 
there would be no large-scale internalization of the ruling values to stand in 
the way of such rebellion. Abercrombie etal are surely right too to point out 
that subaltern social groups often have their own rich, resistant cultures, 
which cannot be incorporated without a struggle into the value-systems of 
those who govern them. 

Even so, they might have bent the stick too far in their turn. Their claim 
that late capitalism operates largely "without ideology' is surely too strong; 
and their summary dismissal of the dissembling, mystificatory effects of a 
ruling ideology has an implausible ring to it. The truth, surely, is that the 
diffusion of dominant values and beliefs among oppressed groups in society 
has some part to play in the reproduction of the system as a whole, but that 
this factor has been typically exaggerated by a long tradition of Western 
Marxism for which 'ideas' are allotted too high a status. As Gramsci argued, 
the consciousness of the oppressed is usually a contradictory amalgam of 
values imbibed from their rulers, and notions which spring more directly 
from their practical experience. By lending too little credence to the 


Ideological Strategies 

potentially incorporative functions of a dominant ideology, Abercrombie 
and his fellow-authors are sometimes as much in danger of over-simplifying 
this mixed, ambiguous condition as are the left Jeremiahs who peddle the 
illusion that all popular resistance has now been smoothly managed out of 

There are other grounds on which to question the importance of 
ideology in advanced capitalist societies. You can argue, for example, that 
whereas rhetorical appeals to such public values played a central role in the 
'classical' phase of the system, they have now been effectively replaced by 
purely technocratic forms of management. A case of this kind is urged by 
the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, in his Towards a Rational Society 
(1970) and Legitimation Crisis (1975); but one needs to distinguish here 
between the view that 'ideology' has yielded to 'technology', and the thesis 
that the more 'metaphysical' forms of ideological control have now given 
ground to 'technocratic' ones. Indeed we shall see later that, for many 
theorists of ideology, the very concept of ideology is synonymous with the 
attempt to provide rational, technical, 'scientific' rationales for social 
domination, rather than mythic, religious or metaphysical ones. On some 
such views, the system of late capitalism can be said to operate 'all by itself, 
without any need to resort to discursive ]u$n£ica.non. It no longer, so to speak, 
has to pass through consciousness; instead, it simply secures its own 
reproduction by a manipulative, incorporative logic of which human 
subjects are the mere obedient effects. It is not surprising that the theoretical 
ideology known as structuralism should have grown up in just this historical 
epoch. Capitalist society no longer cares whether we believe in it or not; it is 
not 'consciousness' or 'ideology' which welds it together, but its own 
complex systemic operations. This case thus inherits something of the later 
Marx's insistence on the commodity as automatically supplying its own 
ideology, it is the routine material logic of everyday life, not some body of 
doctrine, set of moralizing discourses or ideological 'superstructure', which 
keeps the system ticking over. 

The point can be put in a different way. Ideology is essentially a matter of 
meaning; but the condition of advanced capitalism, some would suggest, is 
one of pervasive non -meaning. The sway of utility and technology bleach 
social life of significance, subordinating use-value to the empty formalism 
of exchange-value. Consumerism by-passes meaning in order to engage the 
subject subliminally, libidinaliy, at the level of visceral response rather than 
reflective consciousness. In this sphere, as in the realms of the media and 



everyday culture, form overwhelms content, signifiers lord it over signifieds, 
to deliver us the blank, affectless, two-dimensional surfaces of a post- 
modernist social order. This massive haemorrhaging of meaning then 
triggers pathological symptoms in society at large: drugs, violence, mindless 
revolt, befuddled searches for mystical significance. But otherwise it fosters 
widespread apathy and docility, so that it is no longer a question of whether 
social life has meaning, or whether this particular signification is preferable 
to that, than of whether such a question is even intelligible. To talk about 
'significance' and 'society' in the same breath just becomes a kind of category 
mistake, rather like hunting for the hidden meaning of a gust of wind or the 
hoot of an owl. From this viewpoint, it is less meaning that keeps us in place 
than the lack of it, and ideology in its classical sense is thus superfluous. 
Ideology, after all, requires a certain depth of subjectivity on which to go to 
work, a certain innate receptiveness to its edicts; but if advanced capitalism 
flattens the human subject to a viewing eye and devouring stomach, then 
there is not even enough subjectivity around for ideology to take hold. The 
dwindled, faceless, depleted subjects of this social order are not up to 
ideological meaning, and have no need of it Politics is less a matter of 
preaching or indoctrination than technical management and manipulation, 
form rather than content; once more, it is as though the machine runs itself 
without needing to take a detour through the conscious mind. Education 
ceases to be a question of critical self-reflection and becomes absorbed in its 
turn into the technological apparatus, providing certification for one's place 
within it. The typical citizen is less the ideological enthusiast shouting 'Long 
live liberty!' than the doped, glazed telly viewer, his mind as smooth and 
neutrally receptive as the screen in front of him. It then becomes possible, in 
a cynical 'left' wisdom, to celebrate this catatonic state as some cunning last- 
ditch resistance to ideological meaning - to revel in the very spiritual blank- 
ness of the late bourgeois order as a welcome relief from the boring old 
humanist nostalgia for truth, value and reality. The work of Jean Baudrillard 
is exemplary of this nihilism. 'It is no longer a question', Baudrillard writes, 
'of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that 
the real is no longer real . . .'.' 

The case that advanced capitalism expunges all traces of 'deep' subject- 
ivity, and thus all modes of ideology, is not so much false as drastically 
partial. In a homogenizing gesture ironically typical of a 'pluralistic' post- 
modernism, it fails to discriminate between different spheres of social exist- 
ence, some of which are rather more open to this kind of analysis than 


Ideological Strategies 

others. It repeats the 'culturalist' error of taking television, supermarket, 'life 
style' and advertising as definitive of the late capitalist experience, and passes 
in silence over such activities as studying the bible, running a rape crisis 
centre, joining the territorial army and teaching one's children to speak 
Welsh People who run rape crisis centres or teach their children Welsh also 
tend to watch television and shop in supermarkets; there is no question of a 
single form of subjectivity (or 'non-subjectivity') at stake here. The very same 
citizens are expected to be at one level the mere function of this or that act 
of consumption or media experience, and at another level to exercise ethical 
responsibility as autonomous, self-determining subjects. In this sense, late 
capitalism continues to require a self-disciplined subject responsive to 
ideological rhetoric, as father, juror, patriot, employee, houseworker, while 
threatening to undercut these more 'classical' forms of subjecthood with its 
consumerist and mass-cultural practices. No individual life, not even Jean 
Baudrillard's, can survive entirely bereft of meaning, and a society which 
took this nihilistic road would simply be nurturing massive social dis- 
ruption. Advanced capitalism accordingly oscillates between meaning and 
non-meaning, pitched from moralism to cynicism and plagued by the 
embarrassing discrepancy between the two. 

That discrepancy suggests another reason why ideology is sometimes felt 
to be redundant in modern capitalist societies. For ideology is supposed to 
deceive; and in the cynical milieu of postmodernism we are all much too fly, 
astute and streetwise to be conned for a moment by our own official 
rhetoric. It is this condition which Peter Sloterdijk names 'enlightened false 
consciousness' - the endless self-ironizing or wide-awake bad faith of a 
society which has seen through its own pretentious rationalizations. One can 
picture this as a kind of progressive movement. First, a disparity sets in 
between what society does and what it says; then this performative con- 
tradiction is rationalized; next, the rationalization is made ironically self- 
conscious; and finally this self-ironizing itself comes to serve ideological 
ends. The new kind of ideological subject is no hapless victim of false 
consciousness, but knows exactly what he is doing; it is just that he continues 
to do it even so. And to this extent he would seem conveniently insulated 
against 'ideology critique' of the traditional kind, which presumes that 
agents are not fully in possession of their own motivations. 

There are several objections to this particular 'end of ideology' thesis. For 
one thing, it spuriously generalizes to a whole society what is really a highly 
specific mode of consciousness. Some yuppie stockbrokers may be cynically 



aware that there is no real defence for their way of life, but it is doubtful that 
Ulster Unionists spend much of their time being playfully ironic about their 
commitment to keeping Ulster British. For another thing, such irony is 
more likely to play into the hands of the ruling powers than to discomfort 
them, as Slavoj 2izek observes: 'in contemporary societies, democratic or 
totalitarian, . . . cynical distance, laughter, irony, are, so to speak, part of the 
game. The ruling ideology is not meant to be taken seriously or literally.* 2 It 
is as though the ruling ideology has already accommodated the fact that we 
will be sceptical of it, and reorganized its discourses accordingly. The 
government spokesman announces that there is no truth in the charges of 
widespread corruption within the Cabinet, nobody believes him; he knows 
that nobody believes him, we know that he knows it, and he knows this too. 
Meanwhile the corruption carries on - which is just the point that 2izek 
makes against the conclusion that false consciousness is therefore a thing of 
the past One traditional form of ideology critique assumes that social 
practices are real, but that the beliefs used to justify diem are false or illusory. 
But this opposition, so 2izek suggests, can be reversed. For if ideology is 
illusion, then it is an illusion which structures our social practices; and to 
this extent 'falsity' lies on the side of what we do, not necessarily of what we 
say. The capitalist who has devoured all three volumes of Capital knows 
exactly what he is doing; but he continues to behave as though he did not, 
because his activity is caught up in the 'objective' fantasy of commodity 
fetishism. Sloterdijk's formula for enlightened false consciousness is: 'they 
know very well what they are doing, but they carry on doing it even so'. 
2iiek, by contrast, suggests a crucial adjustment: 'they know that, in their 
activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it'. Ideology, 
in other words, not just a matter of what I think about a situation; it is 
somehow inscribed in that situation itself. It is no good my reminding 
myself that I am opposed to racism as I sit down on a park bench marked 
'Whites Only'; by the acting of sitting on it, I have supported and perpe- 
tuated racist ideology. The ideology, so to speak, is in the bench, not in my 

In much deconstructive theory, the view that interpretation consists in an 
abyssal spiral of ironies, each ironizing the other to infinity, is commonly 
coupled with a political quietism or reformism. If political practice takes 
place only within a context of interpretation, and if that context is notor- 
iously ambiguous and unstable, then action itself is likely to be problematic 
and unpredictable. This case is then used, implicitly or explicitly, to rule out 


Ideological Strategies 

the possibility of radical political programmes of an ambitious kind. For if 
the complex effects of such practices are impossible to calculate in advance, 
then the logic of such a radical programme of action is ultimately unmaster- 
able, and may easily get out of hand. It is a case which the post-structuralist 
critic Jonathan Culler, among others, has several times argued. One would, 
then, be singularly ill-advised to attempt any very 'global' sort of political 
activity, such as trying to abolish world hunger; it would seem more prudent 
to stick to more local political interventions, such as making sure every one 
in five professors you hire is an orphan from Liverpool 8. In this sense too, 
irony is no escape from the ideological game: on the contrary, as an implicit 
disrecommendation of large-scale political activity, it plays right into the 
hands of Whitehall or the White House. 

It is in any case important not to underestimate the extent to which 
people may not feel ironic about their performative contradictions. The 
world of big business is rife with the rhetoric of trust; but research reveals 
that this principle is almost never acted upon The last thing businessmen 
actually do is put their trust in their customers or each other. A corporation 
executive who claims this virtue may not, however, be a cynic or a hypocrite; 
or at least his hypocrisy may be 'objective' rather than subjective. For the 
ethical values which capitalism lauds, and its actual cut-throat practices, 
simply move in different spheres, much like the relationship between 
religious absolutes and everyday life. I still believe that profanity is a sin, 
even though my conversation is blue with it much of the time. The fact that 
I employ a team of six hard-pressed servants around the clock does not 
prevent me from believing in some suitably nebulous way that all men and 
women are equal. In an ideal world I would employ no servants at all, but 
there are pressing pragmatic reasons just at the moment why I am unable to 
live up to my burningly held beliefs. I object to the idea of private education, 
but if I were to place my daughter with all her airs and graces in a compre- 
hensive school, the .other children might bully her. Such rationalizations are 
well-nigh limitless, and this is one reason to doubt the suggestion that in 
.modern capitalist society cold-eyed cynicism has entirely ousted genuine 

We have seen that the importance of ideology can be questioned on 
several grounds. It can be claimed that there is no coherent dominant 
ideology, or that if there is then it is much less effective in shaping popular 
experience than has sometimes been thought. You can argue that advanced 
capitalism is a self-sustaining 'game' which keeps us in place much less 



through ideas than by its material techniques; and that among these 
techniques the coercion of the economic is far more effective than any sort 
of sermonizing. The system, so it is suggested, maintains itself less through 
the imposition of ideological meaning than through destroying meaning 
altogether, and what meanings the masses do entertain can be at odds with 
those of their rulers without any serious disruption ensuing. Finally, it may 
be that there is a dominant ideology at work, but nobody is gullible enough 
to fall for it. All of these cases have their kernel of truth - not least the claim 
that material factors play a more vital role in securing submission than 
ideological ones. It is also surely true that popular consciousness is far from 
being some obedient 'instantiation' of ruling ideological values, but runs 
counter to them in significant ways. If this gap looms sufficiendy wide, then 
a crisis of legitimacy is likely to ensue; it is unrealistic to imagine that as long 
as people do what is required of them, what they think about what they are 
doing is neither here nor there. 

Taken as a whole, however, this end-of-ideology thesis is vastly im- 
plausible. If it were true, it would be hard to know why so many individuals 
in these societies still flock to church, wrangle over politics in the pubs, care 
about what their children are being taught in school and lose sleep over the 
steady erosion of the social services. The dystopian view that the typical 
citizen of advanced capitalism is the doped telly viewer is a myth, as the 
ruling class itself is uncomfortably aware. The doped telly viewer will soon 
enough join a picket line if her wage-packet is threatened, or become 
politically active if the government contemplates driving a motorway 
through his back garden. The left' cynicism of a Baudrillard is insultingly 
complicit with what the system would like to believe - that everything now 
'works all by itself', without regard to the way social issues are shaped and 
defined in popular experience. If that experience really was entirely two- 
dimensional, then the consequences for the system would be grim. For the 
result, as we have seen, would be an accelerated outbreak of 'pathological' 
symptoms in society as a whole, as a" citizenry deprived of meaning sought to 
create it in violent, gratuitous ways. Any ruling order must throw its under- 
lings enough meaning to be going on with; and if the logic of consumerism, 
bureaucracy, 'instant' culture and 'managed' politics is to sap the very 
resources of social significance, then this is in the long run exceedingly bad 
news for the governing order. Advanced capitalist society still requires the 
dutiful, self-disciplined, intelligendy conformist subjects which some see as 
typical only of capitalism's 'classical' phase; it is just that these particular 


Ideological Strategies 

modes of subjectivity are locked in conflict with the quite different forms of 
subjecthood appropriate to a 'postmodernist' order, and this is a contradic- 
tion which the system itself is quite powerless to resolve. 

Raymond Geuss has suggested a useful distinction between 'descriptive', 
'pejorative' and 'positive' definitions of the term ideology. 3 In the descriptive 
or 'anthropological' sense, ideologies are belief-systems characteristic of 
certain social groups or classes, composed of both discursive and non- 
discursive elements. We have seen already how this politically innocuous 
meaning of ideology comes close to the notion of a 'world view', in the sense 
of a relatively well-systematized set of categories which provide a 'frame' for 
the belief, perception and conduct of a body of individuals. 

In its pejorative meaning, ideology is a set of values, meanings and beliefs 
which is to be viewed critically or negatively for any of the following 
reasons. True or false, these beliefs are sustained by the (conscious or un- 
conscious) motivation of propping up an oppressive form of power. If the 
motivation is unconscious, then this will involve a degree of self-deception 
on the part of those who adhere to the beliefs. Ideology in this sense means 
ideas contaminated at root, genetically flawed; and we shall see that this was 
the meaning of ideology embraced by the later Frederick Engels. Alterna- 
tively, ideology may be viewed critically because the ideas and beliefs in 
question, whether true or not, discreditably or deceptively motivated or not, 
breed effects which help to legitimate an unjust form of power. Finally, 
ideology may be thought to be objectionable because it generates ideas 
which either because of their motivation or their function or both are in fact 
false, in the sense of distorting and dissimulating social reality. This is ob- 
jectionable not only because it contributes to shoring up a dominative 
power, but because it is contrary to the dignity of somewhat rational 
creatures to live in a permanent state of delusion. 

Ideology in this negative sense is objectionable either because it gives 
birth to massive social illusion, or because it deploys true ideas to un- 
palatable effect, or because it springs from some unworthy motivation This 
genetic fact is sometimes thought enough to render the beliefs in question 
epistemically false: since the beliefs have their root in the life-experience of a 
particular group or class, the partiality of that experience will bend them out 
of true. They will persuade us to see the world as our rulers see it, not as it is 
in itself. Lurking in the background here is the assumption that the truth 
resides only in some form of totalization which would transcend the 



confines of any particular group's perspective. 

What is sometimes felt to be primarily ideological about a form of 
consciousness, however, is not how it comes about, or whether it is true or 
not, but the fact that it is functional for legitimating an unjusc social order. 
From this standpoint, it is not the origin of the ideas which makes them 
ideological. Not all of the ideas which originate in the dominant class are 
necessarily ideological; conversely, a ruling class may take over ideas which 
have germinated elsewhere and harness them to its purposes. The English 
middle class found the mystique of monarchy ready-made for it by a 
previous ruling class, and adapted it efficiently to its own ends. Even forms of 
consciousness which have their root in the experience of oppressed classes 
may be appropriated by their masters. When Marx and Engels comment in 
The German Ideology that the ruling ideas of each epoch are the ideas of the 
ruling class, they probably intend this as a 'genetic' observation, meaning 
that these ideas are ones actually produced by the ruling class; but it is possible 
that these are just ideas which happen to be in the possession of the rulers, 
no matter where they derive from. The ideas in question may be true or 
false; if they are false, they may be considered to be contingently so, or their 
falsehood may be seen as the effect of the functional work they have to do in 
promoting shady interests, or as a kind of buckling they undergo in straining 
to rationalize shabby social motives. 

But ideologies can also be viewed in a more positive light, as when 
Marxists like Lenin speak approvingly of 'socialist ideology'. Ideology means 
here a set of beliefs which coheres and inspires a specific group or class in the 
pursuit of political interests judged to be desirable. It is then often in effect 
synonymous with the positive sense of 'class consciousness' - a dubious 
equation, in fact, since one could speak of those aspects of a class's conscious- 
ness which are in this sense ideological, and those which are not. Ideology 
might still be viewed here as ideas importantly shaped by an underlying 
motivation, and functional in achieving certain goals; it is just that these 
goals and motivations are now approved, as they were not in the case of a 
class regarded as unjustly oppressive. One can use the term ideology to 
signify a certain elevation of the pragmatic or instrumental over a theoretical 
concern for the truth of ideas 'in themselves', while not necessarily holding 
this to be a negative judgement. Indeed radical thinkers as divergent as 
Georges Sorel and Louis Althusser, .as we shall see, have both approvingly 
seen 'socialist ideology' in this pragmatic light 


Ideological Strategies 

The broad definition of ideology as a body of meanings and values encoding 
certain interests relevant to social power is plainly in need of some fine 
tuning. Ideologies are often thought, more specifically, to be unifying; action- 
oriented, rationalizing, legitimating, universalizing and naturalizing. Whether 
these features apply to oppositional ideologies as well as to dominant ones is 
a question we shall have to consider. Let us examine each of these assump- 
tions in turn. Ideologies are often thought to lend coherence to the groups or 
classes which hold them, welding them into a unitary, if internally 
differentiated, identity, and perhaps thereby allowing them to impose a 
certain unity upon society as a whole. Since the idea of a coherent identity is 
these days somewhat unfashionable, it is worth adding that such unity, in the 
shape of political solidarity and comradely feeling, is quite as indispensable 
to the success of oppositional movements as it is part of the armoury of 
dominant groups. 

How unified ideologies actually are, however, is a matter of debate. If 
they strive to homogenize, they are rarely homogeneous. Ideologies are 
usually internally complex, differentiated formations, with conflicts 
between their various elements which need to be continually renegotiated 
and resolved. What we call a dominant ideology is typically that of a 
dominant social bloc, made up of classes and fractions whose interests are not 
always at one; and these compromises and divisions will be reflected in the 
ideology itself. Indeed it can be claimed that part of the strength of 
bourgeois ideology lies in the fact that it 'speaks' from a multiplicity of sites, 
and in this subtle diffuseness presents no single target to its antagonists. 
Oppositional ideologies, similarly, usually reflect a provisional alliance of 
diverse radical forces. 

If ideologies are not as 'pure' and unitary as they would like to think 
themselves, this is pardy because they exist only in relation to other ideo- 
logies. A dominant ideology has continually to negotiate with the ideologies 
of its subordinates, and this essential open-endedness will prevent it from 
achieving any kind of pure self-identity. Indeed what makes a dominant 
ideology powerful - its ability to intervene in the consciousness of those it 
subjects, appropriating and reinflecting their experience - is also what tends 
to make it internally heterogeneous and inconsistent. A successful ruling 
ideology, as we have seen, must engage significandy with genuine wants, 
needs and desires; but this is also its Achilles heel, forcing it to recognize an 
'other' to itself and inscribing this otherness as a potentially disruptive force 
within its own forms. We might say in Bakhtinian terms that for a 



governing ideology to be 'monological' - to address its subjects with 
authoritarian certitude - it must simultaneously be 'dialogical'; for even an 
authoritarian discourse is addressed to another and lives only in the other's 
response. A dominant ideology has to recognize that there are needs and 
desires which were never simply generated or implanted by itself; and the 
dystopian vision of a social order which is capable of containing and 
controlling all desires because it created them in the first place is thus 
unmasked as a fiction. Any ruling power requires a degree of intelligence 
and initiative from its subjects, if only for its own values to be internalized; 
and this resourcefulness is at once essential for the smooth reproduction of 
the system and a permanent possibility of reading its edicts 'otherwise'. If the 
oppressed must be alert enough to follow the rulers' instructions, they are 
therefore conscious enough to be able to challenge them. 

For thinkers like Karl Mannheim and Lucien Goldmann, ideologies 
would seem to display a high degree of internal unity. But there are those 
like Antonio Gramsci who would view them as complex, uneven 
formations, and theorists like Pierre Macherey for whom ideology is so 
ambiguous and amorphous that it can hardly be spoken of as having a 
significant structure at all. Ideology for Macherey is the invisible colour of 
daily life, too close to the eyeball to be properly objectified, a centreless, 
apparendy limitless medium in which we move like a fish in water, with no 
more ability than a fish to grasp this elusive environment as a whole. One 
cannot for Macherey speak in classical Marxist, style of 'ideological contra- 
dictions', for 'contradiction' implies a definitive structure, of which ideology 
in its 'practical' state is entirely bereft. One can, however, put ideology into 
contradiction by imbuing it with a form which highlights its hidden limits, 
thrusts it up against its own boundaries and reveals its gaps and elisions, thus 
forcing its necessary silences to 'speak'. This, for Macherey, is the work upon 
ideology which is accomplished by the literary text. 4 If Macherey's theory 
underestimates the extent to which an ideology is significantly structured, 
one might claim that Georg Lukacs's notion of the revolutionary subject 
overestimates the coherence of ideological consciousness. 

A similar overestimation, this time of the dominant ideology, is to be 
found in the work of the later Frankfurt School. For Herbert Marcuse and 
Theodor Adorno, capitalist society languishesin the grip of an all-pervasive 
reification, all the way from commodity fetishism and speech habits to 
political bureaucracy and technological thought. 5 This seamless monolith of 
a dominant ideology is apparendy devoid of contradictions - which means, 


Ideological Strategies 

in effect, that Marcuse and Adorno take it at face value, judging it as it 
would wish to appear. If reification exerts its sway everywhere, then this must 
presumably include the criteria by which we judge reification in the first 
place - in which case we would not be able to identify it at all, and the late 
Frankfurt School critique becomes an impossibility. The final alienation 
would be not to know that we were alienated. To characterize a situation as 
reified or alienated is implicitly to point to practices and possibilities which 
suggest an alternative to it, and which can thus become criterial of our 
alienated condition. For Jiirgen Habermas, as we shall see later, these possi- 
bilities are inscribed in the very structures of social communication; while 
for Raymond Williams they spring from the complexity and contradictori- 
ness of all social experience. 'No mode of production', Williams argues, 'and 
therefore no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever 
in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human energy, and 
human intention.'* Every social formation is a complex amalgam of what 
Williams terms 'dominant', 'residual' and 'emergent' forms of consciousness, 
and no hegemony can thus ever be absolute. No sharper contrast could be 
found than with the later work of Michel Foucault, for whom regimes of 
power constitute us to our very roots, producing just those forms of subject- 
ivity on which they can most efficiently go to work But if this is so, what is 
there 'left over', so to speak, to find this situation so appalling? What, 
including one Michel Foucault, could conceivably protest against this condi- 
tion, given that all subjectivity is merely the effect of power in the first 
place? If there is nothing beyond power, then there is nothing that is being 
blocked, categorized and regimented, and therefore absolutely no need to 
worry. Foucault does indeed speak of resistances to power; but what exactly 
is doing the resisting is an enigma his work does not manage to dispel. 

Ideologies are often seen as peculiarly action-oriented sets of beliefs, rather 
than speculative theoretical systems. However abstrusely metaphysical the 
ideas in question may be, they must be translatable by the ideological 
discourse into a 'practical' state, capable of furnishing their adherents with 
goals, motivations, prescriptions, imperatives and so on. Whether this will 
do as an account of all ideology is perhaps doubtful: the kind of idealist 
ideology under fire in The German Ideology is lambasted by Marx and Engels 
precisely for its im practicality, its lofty remoteness from the real world. 
What is ideological about these beliefs for Marx and Engels is not that they 
pragmatically orientate men and women to objectionable political actions, 



but that they distract them from certain forms of practical activity 

A successful ideology must work both practically and theoretically, and 
discover some way of Unking these levels. It must extend from an elaborated 
system of thought to the minutiae of everyday life, from a scholarly treatise 
to a shout in the street. Martin Seliger, in his Ideology and Politics, argues that 
ideologies are typically mixtures of analytic and descriptive statements on 
the one hand, and moral and technical prescriptions on the other. They 
combine in a coherent system factual content and moral commitment, and 
this is what lends them their action-guiding power. At the level of what 
Seliger calls 'operative ideology' we find 'implements' (rules for carrying out 
the ideology's commitments) which may conflict with the ideology's 
fundamental principles. We are thus likely to find within an ideological 
formation a process of compromise, adjustment and trade-off between its 
overall world view and its more concrete prescriptive elements. Ideologies 
for Seliger blend beliefs and disbeliefs, moral norms, a modicum of factual 
evidence and a set of technical prescriptions, all of which ensures concerted 
action for the preservation or reconstruction of a given social order. 

The Soviet philosopher VN. Voloshinov distinguishes between 'be- 
havioural' ideology and 'established systems' of ideas. Behavioural ideology 
concerns 'the whole aggregate of life experiences and the outward expres- 
sions directly connected with it'; it signifies 'that atmosphere of unsystem- 
atised and unfixed inner and outer speech which endows our every instance 
of behaviour and action and our every "conscious", state with meaning'. 7 
There is some relation between this conception and Raymond Williams's 
celebrated notion of a 'structure of feeling' - those elusive, impalpable forms 
of social consciousness which are at once as evanescent as 'feeling* suggests, 
but nevertheless display a significant configuration captured in the term 
'structure'. 'We are talking', Williams writes, 'about characteristic elements 
of impulse, restraint, and tone: specifically affective elements of conscious- 
ness and relationship: not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and 
feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and 
interrelating continuity.' 8 

What such a notion seeks to deconstruct is the familiar opposition 
between ideology as rigid, explicit doctrine on the one hand, and the 
supposedly inchoate nature of lived experience on the other. This opposition 
is itself ideologically eloquent: from what kind of social standpoint does 
lived experience appear utterly shapeless and chaotic? Virginia Woolf may 


Ideological Strategies 

well have experienced her life in this way, but her servants are less likely to 
have regarded their days as deliciously fluid and indeterminate. The 
doctrine goes hand in hand with the modernist banality that the purpose of 
art is to 'impose order upon chaos'. Against this, the concept of behavioural 
ideology or structure of feeling reminds us that lived experience is always 
tacitly shaped already, if only in ambiguous, provisional ways. Theoretically 
elaborate ideologies of art, science and ethics are for Voloshinov 'crystalliza- 
tions' of this more fundamental level of existence, but the relationship 
between the two is dialectical. Formal ideological systems must draw vital 
sustenance from behavioural ideology, or risk withering away; but they also 
react back powerfully upon it, setting, as Voloshinov remarks, its 'tone'. 

Even within behavioural ideology, different strata can be distinguished. 
What Voloshinov calls the lowest, most fluid stratum of such consciousness 
is made up of vague experiences, idle thoughts and random words which 
flash across the mind. But the upper levels are more vital and substantial, 
and these are the ones linked with ideological systems. They are more 
mobile and sensitive than an 'established' ideology, and it is in this sub- 
liminal region that those creative energies through which a social order may 
be restructured first germinate. 'Newly emerging social forces find ideo- 
logical expression and take shape first in these upper strata of behavioural 
ideology before they can succeed in dominating the arena of some organ- 
ised, official ideology.' 9 As these fresh ideological currents infiltrate the 
established belief systems, they will tend to take on something of their forms 
and colourings, incorporating into themselves notions already 'in stock'. 
Once again, Voloshinov's thought runs parallel here to Williams's 'structure 
of feeling'; for what Williams is seeking to define by that phrase is very often 
the stirring of 'emergent* forms of consciousness, ones which are struggling 
to break through but which have not yet attained the formalized nature of 
the belief systems they confront As Williams writes, 'there is always, though 
in varying degrees, practical consciousness, in specific relationships, specific 
skills, specific perceptions, that is unquestionably social and that the 
specifically dominant social order neglects, excludes, represses, or simply 
fails to recognise.' 10 These social experiences still 'in solution', active and 
pressing but not yet fully articulated, may of course always suffer incorpora- 
tion at the hands of the dominant culture, as Voloshinov acknowledges too; 
but both thinkers recognize a potential conflict between 'practical' and 
'official' forms of consciousness, and the possibility of variable relations 
between them: compromise, adjustment, incorporation, outright opposition. 



They reject; in other words, those more monolithic, pessimistic conceptions 
of ideology which would see 'practical consciousness' as no more than an 
obedient instantiation of ruling ideas. 

There is a clear affinity between this distinction and what we shall see 
later in Antonio Gramsci as a discrepancy between official and practical 
consciousness - between those notions which the oppressed classes derive 
from their superiors, and those which arise from their 'life situations'. There 
is a similar opposition in the work of Louis Althusser between 'theoretical 
ideologies' (the work of the bourgeois political economists, for example) and 
what he calls 'ideology in a practical state'. Pierre Bourdieu's concept of 
'habitus', which we shall be examining later, is an equivalent to 'practical 
ideology', focusing upon the way ruling imperatives are actually transmuted 
into forms of routine social behaviour; but like Voloshinov's 'behavioural 
ideology' it is a creative, open-ended affair, in no sense a simple 'reflection' 
of dominant ideas. 

To study an ideological formation, then, is among other things to 
examine the complex set of linkages or mediations between its most arti- 
culate and least articulate levels. Organized religion might provide a useful 
example. Such religion stretches from highly abstruse metaphysical 
doctrines to meticulously detailed moral prescriptions governing the 
routines of everyday life. Religion is just a way of bringing to bear the most 
fundamental questions of human existence on a uniquely individual life. It 
also contains doctrines and rituals to rationalize the discrepancy between the 
two - to account for why 1 fail to live up to these cosmic truths, and (as in 
confession) to adjust my daily behaviour to their demands. Religion consists 
of a hierarchy of discourses, some of them elaborately theoretical (schol- 
asticism), some ethical and prescriptive, others exhortatory and consolatory 
(preaching, popular piety); and the institution of the church ensures that 
each of these discourses meshes constandy with the others, to create an 
unbroken continuum between the theoretical and the behavioural. 

It is sometimes claimed that if ideologies are action-oriented sets of 
beliefs, then this is one reason for their false, partial or distorting nature. A 
connection can be made here, in other words, between the 'sociological' 
character of ideology - the fact that it concerns ideas geared fairly directly to 
social practice - and the epistemological issue of these ideas' falsity. On this 
viewpoint, a true cognition of the world buckles under the pressure of 
certain pragmatic interests, or is warped by the limits of the class situation 
from which it springs. To say that the language of bourgeois political 


Ideological Strategies 

economy is ideological is to claim that at certain key points it betrays an 
'interference' from the insistence of practical bourgeois interests. It need not 
be just a 'higher' encodement of those interests, as Marx himself appreciated; 
it is not just some spurious theoretical reflection of bourgeois behavioural 
ideology. But at certain points its genuinely cognitive discourse becomes 
blocked, forced up against certain conceptual limits which mark the real 
historical frontiers of bourgeois society itself. And these theoretical 
problems could then only be resolved by a transformation of that form of 

Ideology, on this view, is thought rendered false by its social determin- 
ations. The trouble with this formulation, of course, is that there is no 
thought which is not socially determined. So it must be a question of the kindo£ 
social determinants under consideration. There is no need to hold that the only 
alternative to ideology is then some 'non-perspecrival', socially disinterested 
knowledge; you can simply argue that at any given historical point certain 
socially determined standpoints will yield more of the truth than others. 
Someone, as they say, may be 'in a position to know', while others may not 
be. The fact that all viewpoints are socially determined does not entail that 
all viewpoints are equal in value. A prisoner is more likely to recognize the 
oppressive nature of a particular juridical system than a judge. Interests may 
interfere with our knowledge, in the sense, for example, that to understand 
the situation truly may not be in my interests. But someone else may risk 
starving to death unless they do get to understand the real situation, in which 
case their knowledge is by no means disinterested. 

An ideology may be seen not simply as 'expressing' social interests but as 
rationalizing them. Those who believe that there will be no air left to breathe in 
Britain if we allow more immigration are probably rationalizing a racist atti- 
tude. Rationalization is at root a psychoanalytic category, defined by J. 
Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis as a 'procedure whereby the subject attempts to 
present an explanation that is either logically consistent or ethically accept- 
able for attitudes, ideas, feelings, etc., whose true motives are not perceived'." 
To call ideologies 'rationalizing' is already to imply that there is something 
discreditable about them - that they try to defend the indefensible, cloaking 
some disreputable motive in high-sounding ethical terms. 

Not all ideological discourse need be of this kind, however, either because 
a group may not regard its own motives as particularly shameful, or because 
in fact they are not. Ancient society did not consider slave-owning to be 



reprehensible, and saw no need to rationalize it as we would need to now. 
Extreme right-wingers see no need to justify the free market by claiming 
that it will finally benefit everyone; for them, the weakest can simply go to 
the wall. If what the Diggers and Suffragettes held can be described as 
ideological, it is not because it betrays concealed and dubious motives. 
Ruling groups and classes may have some good motives and some shady 
ones: Western anti-Communism is often enough a self-interested apologia 
for Western property rights, but sometimes a genuine protest against the 
repressiveness of the post-capitalist societies. For psychoanalytic theory, the 
true motive in the act of rationalization is necessarily concealed from the 
subject, since did she but know it she would seek to change it; but this may 
or may not be so in the case of ideology. Some Americans really do believe 
that throwing their military weight around is in the interests of global 
freedom, whereas others perceive more cynically that it is in the interests of 
protecting American property. Ruling classes are not always self-deluded, 
not always utter dupes of their own propaganda. 

On this view, then, ideologies can be seen as more or less systematic 
attempts to provide plausible explanations and justifications for social 
behaviour which might otherwise be the object of criticism. These apologias 
then conceal the truth from others, and perhaps also from the rationalizing 
subject itself. If all social interests are viewed in the manner of the sociologist 
Pareto as largely affective and irrational, then all theoretical ideology 
becomes a kind of elaborate rationalization, substituting supposedly rational 
belief for irrational or arational emotions and opinions. The structure of 
rationalization is thus metaphorical: one set of conceptions stands in for 

Oppressed groups in society may rationalize just as thoroughly as their 
rulers. They may perceive that their conditions leave a lot to be desired, but 
rationalize this fact on the grounds that they deserve to suffer, or that 
everyone else does too, or that it is somehow inevitable, or that the alterna- 
tive might be a good deal worse. Since these attitudes will generally benefit 
the rulers, it might be claimed that ruling classes sometimes allow those they 
subjugate to do much of their rationalizing for them. Dominated groups or 
classes can also rationalize their situation to the point of self-deception, 
persuading themselves that they are not unhappy at all. It is worth noting 
here that if we discovered that they really were happy, it is hard to know why 
we should press for their conditions to be changed; we would have to hold 
instead that they were not in fact happy but were for ideological reasons 


Ideological Strategies 

unaware of this. If it is in one sense clearly not in the interests of an 
oppressed group to deceive itself about its situation, there is another sense in 
which it often is, since such self-deception may render its conditions more 
tolerable. It is not simply a matter of the group's beliefs being at odds here 
with its interests, but of its having conflicting kinds of interests. 

Rationalization may help to promote interests, but there are ways of 
promoting interests which do not particularly involve rationalization. One 
may help to promote one's interests precisely by not rationalizing them, as in 
the case of a self-confessed hedonist who wins our sympathies by his 
disarming candour. A stoical or fatalistic ideology may rationalize the 
wretched conditions of some social group, but it need not necessarily 
advance its interests, other than in the sense of supplying it with an opiate. 
An exception to this case is Nietzsche's celebrated doctrine of ressentiment, 
whereby a downtrodden people deliberately infect their rulers with their 
own self-castigating nihilism and so cunningly curtail their power. 

The mechanism of rationalization is usually thought to be at the root of 
self-deception, on which there is now a rich, suggestive literature. 12 Self- 
deception is the condition in which one has wants or desires which one 
denies or disavows, or of which one is simply unaware. Denys Turner finds 
this whole conception deeply problematical on two grounds: first, because it 
would seem to deny the reality of the state of self-deception. The self- 
deceived person really is self-deceived, rather than harbouring some 
authentic desire overlaid by a layer of false consciousness. Secondly, Turner 
can make no real sense of the idea of having a desire of which one is 
unaware, or which one systematically misinterprets to oneself. 13 The 
problem here may turn partly on the kinds of wants and desires in question. 
It would seem reasonable to argue that an exploited social group may be 
profoundly dissatisfied with the regime which profits from it, without fully 
acknowledging this in a conscious way. It may show up instead in the form 
of a 'performative contradiction' between what the members of the group do 
and what they say: they may officially accord loyalty to the regime while 
demonstrating their indifference to it by, say, massive absenteeism from 
work. Where those who question the concept of self-deception are surely 
right is that it would not make sense to say that this group had a burning 
desire to socialize industry under workers' control, dismande the structures 
of patriarchy and withdraw from NATO in four months' time, and not be 
aware of it. Nobody can entertain aspirations as precise as that and still be 
unconscious of them, just as a dog may be vaguely expecting its master's 



return, but cannot be expecting him to return at 2.15 pm on Wednesday. 

Ideas and beliefs may spring from underlying desires, but they are also 
partly constitutive of them. A member of some 'lost' tribe in the Amazon 
basin cannot desire to be a brain surgeon, since he has no such concept. 
Rationalization involves a conflict between conscious belief and unconscious 
or unavowed motivation, but there are problems in regarding ideology in 
general as a question of repression in the Freudian sense. To be mystified is 
less to have repressed some piece of knowledge than not to have known 
something in the first place. There is also the question of whether ideology 
sometimes involves holding mutually contradictory ideas at the same time, 
as opposed to being caught in a contradiction between conscious belief and 
unconscious attitude. It is hard to see how someone could declare that 
children were in all respects delightful and denounce them in the very next 
breath as repulsive lirde beasts, as opposed to observing that children were 
delightful in some ways but not in others. But a manservant might swing 
with such bewildering rapidity between admiring his master and betraying 
withering contempt for him that we might conclude that he held, in effect, 
two mutually contradictory beliefs at one and the same time. The admira- 
tion no doubt belongs to his 'official' ideology, whereas the contempt arises 
from his 'practical consciousness'. When Othello declares that he believes 
Desdemona to be faithful to him and yet does not believe it, he may not 
mean that he sometimes thinks the one thing and sometimes the other, or 
that part of him trusts in her and part does not, or that he really hasn't a clue 
what he believes and is totally confused. He may mean that at one level he 
finds it utterly inconceivable that she has betrayed him, while at another 
level he has ample evidence to suggest that she has. One aspect of Othello's 
patriarchal ideology - his complacent faith in his security of sexual posses- 
sion - is in deadlock with another his paranoid suspicion of women. 

The concept of rationalization is closely allied to that of legitimation. Legit- 
imation refers to the process by which a ruling power comes to secure from 
its subjects an at least tacit consent to its authority, and like 'rationalization' 
it can have something of a pejorative smack about it, suggesting the need to 
make respectable otherwise illicit interests. But this need not always be so: 
legitimation can simply mean establishing one's interests as broadly accept- 
able, rather than lending them a spurious wash of legality. Social interests we 
regard as just and valid may have to fight hard to win credibility from 
society as a whole. To legitimate one's power is not necessarily to 'naturalize' 


Ideological Strategies 

it, in the sense of making it appear spontaneous and inevitable to one's 
subordinates: a group or class may well perceive that there could be kinds of 
authority other than that of their masters, but endorse this authority even so. 
A mode of domination is generally legitimated when those subjected to it 
come to judge their own behaviour by the criteria of their rulers. Someone 
with a Liverpool accent who believes he speaks incorrectly has legitimated 
an established cultural power. 

There is a significant distinction between ideas which serve and which 
help to legitimate social interests. A dominant class may promote its ends by 
preaching that most of its underlings are of subhuman intelligence, but this 
is hardly likely to legitimate it in the eyes of its subjects. The belief that the 
highest spiritual value is to put one over on one's competitors would 
probably need to be rationalized to secure legitimacy for itself. Many of the 
beliefs of an oppressed group - that their sufferings are unavoidable, or that 
rebellion will be brutally punished - serve the interests of their masters, but 
do not particularly legitimate them. The absence of certain beliefs may serve 
one's own interests, or those of another group: it aids the bourgeoisie that 
they do not hold that the upshot of cutting wages is eternal torment, just as 
it helps them if those whose wages are cut reject the doctrines of dialectical 
materialism. A set of false beliefs may further a class's interests, as Marx 
argues of middle-class revolutionaries in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 
who delude themselves productively about the splendour of their project. 
Just as true ideas may prove dysfunctional for advancing social interests, so 
false ones may prove functional for if, indeed for Friedrich Nietzsche truth is 
just any illusion which turns out to be life-enhancing. A group, for example, 
may overestimate its own political strength, but the fruit of this miscalcula- 
tion may be some successful course of action it would not otherwise have 
embarked on. As far as ruling classes go, the illusion that they are acting in 
the common interest may buttress their self-esteem and thus, along with it, 
their power. Note also that a belief may be explicable in terms of one's social 
position, but may not significantly advance ir, and that to claim that a belief 
is functional for social interests is not necessarily to deny that it is rationally 
grounded. The holder of the belief may have arrived at it anyway, despite the 
fact that it is in his or her interests to do so. 1 * 

It is sometimes thought that some actions of the state are legitimate, 
whereas others are not. The state has licit powers, but occasionally kicks over 
the traces. For a Marxist, however, the bourgeois state is illegitimate in se, 
however it may succeed in legitimating itself in the eyes of its subordinates, 



since it is essentially an organ of unjustifiable class rule. We should 
remember, however, that such legitimation is never simply an ideological 
affair ruling classes have material means at their disposal for eliciting the 
consent of their subordinates, such as raising their wages or providing them 
with free health care. And as we saw in discussing The Dominant Ideology 
Thesis, it is rash to suppose that a legitimated power is always one success- 
fully internalized by those who are its targets. We need to distinguish 
between such 'normative' acceptance, and what is probably the more 
widespread condition of 'pragmatic' acceptance, in which subaltern groups 
endorse the right of their rulers to govern because they can see no realistic 

An important device by which an ideology achieves legitimacy is by 
universalizing and 'eternalizing' itself. Values and interests which are in fact 
specific to a certain place and time are projected as the values and interests 
of all humanity. The assumption is that if this were not so, the sectoral, self- 
interested nature of the ideology would loom too embarrassingly large, and 
so would impede its general acceptance. 

The locus classicus of this view can be found in The German Ideology, where 
Marx and Engels argue that 'each new class which puts itself in the place of 
one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, 
to represent its interest as the common interest of all the. members of society, 
that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of univer- 
sality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones.' 15 We 
should not dismiss such universalization as a mere sleight of hand: Marx and 
Engels go on instantly in this passage to remark that the interests of an 
emergent revolutionary class really are likely to be connected to the 
common interests of all other non-ruling classes. The revolutionary pro- 
letariat has traditionally sought to rally to its banner other disaffected groups 
and classes: poor peasants,- intellectuals, elements of the petty bourgeoisie 
and so on, who have their own interests in toppling the ruling bloc. And 
radical popular movements of one kind or another have traditionally clung 
to the shirt-tails of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, only, typically, to be sold 
out once that class has assumed power. When a social class is still emergent, 
it has had as yet scant time to consolidate its own sectional interests, and 
bends its energies instead to winning as broad support as possible. Once 
ensconced in power, its selfish interests will tend to become more obvious, 
causing it to lapse from universal to particular status in the eyes of some 


Ideological Strategies 

erstwhile supporters. For some Marxist theorists, it is only at this point that 
ideology proper takes hold: on this view, class consciousness is not ideo- 
logical when a class is still in its revolutionary phase, but becomes so when it 
needs later to conceal contradictions between its own interests and those of 
society as a whole. 1 * A false universalization, in short, becomes necessary 
once a true one has failed. 

Universalization, then, is not always a speciously rationalizing 
mechanism. It is indeed ultimately in the interests of all individuals that 
women should emancipate themselves; and the belief that one's values are 
finally universal may provide some significant impetus in gaining legitimacy 
for them. If a social group or class needs to universalize its beliefs and values 
to win support for them, then this will make a difference to the beliefs and 
values in question It is not just a matter of that class persuading others that 
its interests are in fact at one with theirs, but of framing these interests in the 
first place in ways which make this plausible. It is a question, in other words, 
of how the group or class describes itself to itself, not just of how it sells itself 
to others. Framing one's interests in this style may run against one's im- 
mediate interests, or even against one's longer-term ones. The universal 
values of the revolutionary bourgeoisie - freedom, justice, equality and so on 
- at once promoted its own cause and occasioned it grave embarrassment 
when other subordinated classes began to take these imperatives seriously. 

If I am to convince you that it is really in your interests for me to be self- 
interested, then I can only be effectively self-interested by becoming less so. 
If my interests have to take yours into account in order to flourish, then they 
will be redefined on the basis of your own needs, thus ceasing to be identical 
with themselves. But your interests will not remain self-identical either, 
since they have now been reworked as achievable only within the matrix of 
mine. A useful example of this process is the political state. The state for 
Marxism is fundamentally an instrument of ruling-class power; but it is also 
an organ by which that class must fashion the general consensus within 
which its own interests might best thrive. This latter requirement then typi- 
cally involves the ruling bloc in negotiating with antagonistic forces within 
the arena of the state in ways which are not always compatible with its own 
short-term interests. 

A class which succeeds in universalizing its aims will cease to appear as a 
sectional interest at all; at the acme of its power, that power will effectively 
vanish. It is for this reason that 'universalization' is commonly a pejorative 
term for radicals. On this view, ideologies are always driven by global 



ambitions, suppressing the historical relativity of their own doctrines. 
'Ideology', announces Louis Althusser, 'has no outside.'" This global reach 
encompasses time as well as space. An ideology is reluctant to believe that it 
was ever born, since to do so is to acknowledge that it can die. Like the 
oedipal child, it would prefer to think of itself as without parentage, sprung 
parthenogenetically from its own seed. It is equally embarrassed by the 
presence of sibling ideologies, since these mark out its own finite frontiers 
and so delimit its sway. To view an ideology from the outside is to recognize 
its limits; but from the inside these boundaries vanish into infinity, leaving 
the ideology curved back upon itself like cosmic space. 

It is not clear, however, that all ideological discourse needs to conceal its 
frontiers in this way. 'I know I speak as a Western liberal, but I just do believe 
that Islam is a barbaric creed': such coyly self-referential pronouncements 
should alert us against the now fashionable belief that for the subject to 
reckon himself into his own utterances is inevitably a progressive move. On 
the contrary, as with the disarming candour of the self-declared hedonist, it 
might actually lend conviction to his viewpoint. Now all ideologists 
obtusely insist that everyone from Adam to the Chief Druid has shared their 
opinions - which brings us to the doctrine of 'naturalization'. 

Successful ideologies are often thought to render their beliefs natural and 
self-evident - to identify them with the 'common sense' of a society so that 
nobody could imagine how they might ever be different. This process, 
which Pierre Bourdieu calls doxa, involves the ideology in creating as tight a 
fit as possible between itself and social reality, thereby closing the gap into 
which the leverage of critique could be inserted. Social reality is redefined by 
the ideology to become coextensive with itself, in a way which occludes the 
truth that the reality in fact generated the ideology. Instead, the two appear 
to be spontaneously bred together, as indissociable as a sleeve and its lining. 
The result, politically speaking, is an apparently vicious circle: the ideology 
could only be transformed if the reality was such as to allow it to become 
objectified; but the ideology processes the reality in ways which forestall this 
possibility. The two are thus mutually self-confirming. On this view, a 
ruling ideology does not so much combat alternative ideas as thrust them 
beyond the very bounds of the thinkable. Ideologies exist because there are 
things which must at all costs not be thought, let alone spoken. How we 
could ever know that there were such thoughts is then an obvious logical 
difficulty. Perhaps we just feel that there is something we ought to be 


Ideological Strategies 

thinking, but we have no idea what it is. 

Ideology, on this view, offers itself as an 'Of course!', or That goes without 
saying'; and from Georg Lukacs to Roland Bardies this has figured as a 
central assumption of 'ideology critique'. Ideology freezes history into a 
'second nature', presenting it as spontaneous, inevitable and so unalterable. It 
is essentially a reification of social life, as Marx would seem to argue in his 
famous essay on the fetishism of commodities. Naturalizing has an obvious 
link with universalizing, since what is felt to be universal is often thought to 
be natural; but the two are not in fact synonymous, since one could regard 
some activity as universal without necessarily judging it to be natural. You 
might concede that all human societies to date have displayed aggression, 
while looking eagerly to a future order in which this would no longer be so. 
But there is clearly a strong implication that what has been true always and 
everywhere is innate to human nature, and so cannot be changed. One just 
has to accept that twelfth-century French peasants were really capitalists in 
heavy disguise, or that the Sioux have always secretly wanted to be stock- 

Like universalization, naturalization is part of the dehistoricizing thrust of 
ideology, its tacit denial that ideas and beliefs are specific to a particular 
time, place and social group. As Marx and Engels recognize in The German 
Ideology, to conceive of forms of consciousness as autonomous, magically 
absolved from social determinants, is to uncouple them from history and so 
convert them into a natural phenomenon. If some feudalist ideologues 
denounced early capitalist enterprise, it was because they regarded it as 
unnatural - meaning, of course, untrue to feudal definitions of human 
nature. Later on, capitalism would return the compliment to socialism. It is 
interesting, incidentally, that the concept of naturalization itself rests upon a 
particular ideology of Nature, which takes it in the manner of William 
Wordsworth to be massively immutable and enduring; and it is ironic that 
this view of Nature should prevail in an historical epoch where the stuff is 
continually being hacked into human shape, technologically dominanted 
and transformed. Thomas Hardy opens The Return of the Native by speaking 
of the barren, unchanging landscape of Egdon heath, a tract of land which 
was planted from end to end by the Forestry Commission not long after his 
death. Perhaps it is human nature which the ideologists have in mind, which 
is similarly assumed to be immutable. To deny this, as the political left 
properly does, is not to assert that there is nothing whatsoever about the 
human species which is natural and unchanging. It is natural that human 



beings should be born, eat, engage in sexual activity, associate with one 
another, transform their environments, die and so on; and the fact that all of 
these practices are, culturally speaking, highly variable is no rebuttal of their 
naturalness. Karl Marx believed strongly in a human nature, and was surely 
quite right to do so.'* There are many crucial aspects of human societies 
which follow from the material nature of our bodies, a nature which has 
altered only negligibly in the history of the race. Appeals to nature and the 
natural are by no means necessarily reactionary: a social order which denies 
warmth, nourishment and shelter to its members is unnatural, and should 
be politically challenged on these grounds. When the rulers of the anciens 
regimes in eighteenth-century Europe heard the dread word 'nature', they 
reached for their weapons. 

Many forms of ideology do indeed naturalize their own values; but as 
with universalization one may take leave to doubt whether this is universally 
true. The case that ideology converts the controversial into the obvious has 
itself become so obvious that it is ripe for interrogating. The well-named 
doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven is certainly 
ideological, but it is hardly obvious even to many of its pious adherents. It is 
hard to imagine it springing spontaneously from our casual experience of 
the world. Many people revere the monarchy, but it is not always self- 
evident to them that there must be a monarch, and they may be well aware 
that there are societies in reasonable working order which lack such an 
institution. Someone may be ferociously committed to capitalism in the 
perfect knowledge that it is a fairly recent historical system, one way of 
organizing society among many. 

The supposed obviousness of ideology goes along with its presumed lack 
of self-reflexiveness. The assumption here is that it would be impossible for 
somebody to hold ideological views and be simultaneously aware that they 
were ideological. Ideologies are discourses unable to curve back critically 
upon themselves, blinded to their own grounds and frontiers. If ideology 
knew itself to be such it would instantly cease to be so, just as if a pig knew it 
was a pig it would not be. 'Ideology', observes Louis Althusser, 'never says: "I 
am ideological".' lv Though this may be true much of the time, that 'never' is 
surely an overstatement. 'I know I'm a terrible sexist, but I just can't stand the 
sight of a woman in trousers'; 'Sorry to be so bourgeois, but would you mind 
spitting in the sink rather than in the food mixer?': such utterances may be 
little more than attempts to forestall criticism by their arch frankness, but 
they indicate a limited degree of ironic self-awareness which a full-blooded 


Ideological Strategies 

'naturalization' theory fails to take into account I may have some conscious- 
ness of the social origin and function of my beliefs, without on that score 
ceasing to hold them. A novelist like E.M. Forster is perfectly capable of 
discerning something of the exploitative conditions on which his own 
liberal humanism rests, without thereby ceasing to be a liberal humanist 
Indeed a guilt-stricken insight into the sources of his own privilege is part of 
his middle-class liberalism; a true liberal must be liberal enough to suspect 
his own liberalism. Ideology, in short, is not always the utterly self-blinded, 
self-deluded straw target its theorists occasionally make it out to be - not 
least in the cynical, infinitely regressive self-ironizing of a postmodernist 
age. On the contrary, it can rise from time to time to 'metalinguistic' status 
and name itself, at least partially, without abandoning its position. And such 
partial self-reflectiveness may tighten rather than loosen its grip. That 
ideologies should be thought always naturalizing and universalizing natural- 
izes and universalizes the concept of ideology, and gives its antagonists too 
easy a political ride. 

Finally, we may ask how far the various mechanisms we have examined 
are displayed by oppositional ideologies as well as by dominant ones. 
Oppositional ideologies often seek to unify a diverse array of political forces, 
and are geared to effective action; they also strive to legitimate their beliefs 
in the eyes of society as a whole, so that some socialists, for example, speak of 
the need to create a 'socialist common sense' in the consciousness of 
ordinary men and women When the middle class was still an emergent 
political force, its revolutionary rallying cry of liberty was certainly, among 
other, finer things, a rationalization of the freedom to exploit; and it was 
intent on both universalizing its values (appealing to an abstract 'mankind' 
against the parochialism of the traditional order), and naturalizing them 
(invoking 'natural rights' as against mere custom and privilege). Political 
radicals today are properly wary of repeating this gesture, and would of 
course reject the view that their beliefs merely rationalize some specious 
ulterior motive; but they are implicitly committed to universalizing their 
values, in that it would make no sense to argue that socialist feminism was 
appropriate for California but not for Cambodia. Those on the political left 
who feel nervous of such grandly global gestures, fearing that they 
necessarily implicate some oppressively abstract notion of 'Man', are simply 
liberal pluralists or cultural relativists in radical clothing. 


From the 
Enlightenment to the 
Second International 

THERE is a peculiar feature about words which end in 'ology': '-ology' means 
the science or study of some phenomenon; but by a curious process of 
inversion 'ology' words often end up meaning the phenomenon studied 
rather than the systematic knowledge of it. Thus 'methodology' means the 
study of method, but is commonly used nowadays to mean method itself. To 
say you are examining Max Weber's methodology probably means you are 
considering the methods he uses, rather than his ideas about them. To say 
that human biology is not adapted to large doses of carbon monoxide means 
that our bodies are not so adapted, not the study of them. The geology of 
Peru' can refer to the physical features of that country as much as to the 
scientific examination of them. And the American tourist who remarked to 
a friend of mine on the 'wonderful ecology' of the West of Ireland just 
meant that the scenery was beautiful. 

Such an inversion befell the word ideology not long after its birth. 
'Ideology' originally meant the scientific study of human ideas; but fairly 
soon the object took over from the approach, and the word rapidly came to 
mean systems of ideas themselves. An ideologist was then less someone who 
analysed ideas than someone who expounded them. It is interesting to 
speculate on at least one of the ways in which this reversal came about. An 
ideologist, as we shall see in a moment, was initially a philosopher intent on 
revealing the material basis of our thought. The last thing he believed was 



that ideas were mysterious things in themselves, quite independent of 
external conditioning. 'Ideology' was an attempt to put ideas back in their 
place, as the products of certain mental and physiological laws. But to carry 
through this project meant lavishing a good deal of attention on the realm of 
human consciousness; and it is then understandable, if ironic, that such 
theorists should be taken to believe that ideas were all there was. It is as 
though one should tag as a 'religious philosopher' some agnostic rationalist 
who spent a lifetime deep in mysticism and mythology for the purpose of 
demonstrating that these were illusions bred by certain social conditions. In 
fact, the early French ideologues did believe that ideas were at the root of 
social life, so that to accuse them of inflating the importance of human 
consciousness is not simply a mistake; but if they were idealists in this sense, 
they were materialists in their view of where ideas actually derived from. 

Ideology in our own time has sometimes been sharply counterposed to 
science; so it is ironic to recall that ideology began life precisely as a science, 
as a rational enquiry into the laws governing the formation and develop- 
ment of ideas. Its roots lie deep in the Enlightenment dream of a world 
entirely transparent to reason, free of the prejudice, superstition and 
obscurantism of the ancien regime. To be an 'ideologist' - a clinical analyst of 
the nature of consciousness - was to be a critic of 'ideology', in the sense of 
the dogmatic, irrational belief systems of traditional society. But this critique 
of ideology was in fact an ideology all of itself and this in two different 
senses. For one thing, the early ideologues of the French eighteenth century 
drew heavily on John Locke's empiricist philosophy in their war against 
metaphysics, insisting that human ideas were derived from sensations rather 
than from some innate or transcendental source; and such empiricism, with 
its image of individuals as passive and discrete, is itself deeply bound up with 
bourgeois ideological assumptions. For another thing, the appeal to a 
disinterested nature, science and reason, as opposed to religion, tradition and 
political authority, simply masked the power interests which these noble 
notions secretly served. We might risk the paradox, then, that ideology was 
born as a thoroughly ideological critique of ideology. In illuminating the 
obscurantism of the old order, it cast upon society a dazzling light which 
blinded men and women to the murky sources of this clarity. 

The aim of the Enlightenment ideologues, as spokesmen for the 
revolutionary bourgeoisie of eighteenth-century Europe, was to reconstruct 
society from the ground up on a rational basis. They inveighed fearlessly 
against a social order which fed the people on religious superstition in order 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

to buttress its own brutally absolutist power, and dreamt of a future in which 
the dignity of men and women, as creatures able to survive without opiate 
and illusion, would be cherished. Their case, however, contained one 
crippling contradiction. For if they held on the one hand that individuals 
were the determined products of their environment, they insisted on the 
other hand that they could rise above such lowly determinants by the power 
of education. Once the laws of human consciousness were laid bare to 
scientific inspection, that consciousness could be transformed in the 
direction of human happiness by a systematic pedagogical project. But what 
would be the determinants of that project? Or, as Karl Marx put it, who 
would educate the educators? If all consciousness is materially conditioned, 
must not this apply also to the apparendy free, disinterested notions which 
would enlighten the masses out of autocracy into freedom? If everything is 
to be exposed to the pellucid light of reason, must not this include reason 

The ideologues could offer no solution to this quandary; but they 
persevered nonetheless in their pursuit of the essence of mind. Social and 
political institutions must be rescued from the sway of metaphysical 
delusion; but is not this project fatally incomplete unless it extends itself to 
the most distinctive aspect of humanity, consciousness itself? How can a 
rational society be constructed if the mind itself, supposedly the very basis of 
social existence, remains inscrutable and elusive? The programme of an 
'ideology' is accordingly to bring this most complex, impalpable of 
phenomena within the province of scientific research, in a way scandalous to 
the metaphysical dualists for whom mind is one thing and materiality quite 
another. The new science of ideology was thus as subversive in its day as 
psychoanalysis in our own time: if even the soul or psyche could be shown to 
work by certain determinate mechanisms, then the last bastion of mystery 
and transcendence in a mechanistic world would be finally toppled. 
Ideology is a revolutionary strike at the priests and kings, at the traditional 
custodians and technicians of the 'inner life'. Knowledge of humanity is 
wrested from the monopoly of a ruling class and invested instead in an elite 
of scientific theorists. 1 

That scientific reason should penetrate to the inmost recesses of the 
human psyche is not only theoretically logical but politically essential. For 
social institutions can be rationally transformed only on the basis of the most 
exact knowledge of human nature; and justice and happiness he in the adapt- 
ation of such institutions to these unchanging laws, rather than in the 



arbitrary forcing of human nature into 'artificial' social forms. Ideology, in 
short, belongs with a full-blooded programme of social engineering, which 
will remake our social environment, thus alter our sensations, and so change 
our ideas. Such is the well-meaning fantasy of the great Enlightenment 
ideologists, of Holbach, Condillac, Helvetius, Joseph Priestley, William 
Godwin and the younger Samuel Coleridge, that a direct line could be 
traced from the material conditions of human beings to their sensory 
experience and then to their thoughts, and that this whole trajectory could 
be diverted by radical reform towards the goal of spiritual progress and 
ultimate perfection. 2 Ideology, which in the hands of Marx and Engels will 
shortly come to denote the illusion that ideas are somehow autonomous of 
the material world, starts life as exactly the reverse: as one branch of a 
mechanical materialism which clings to the faith that the operations of the 
mind are as predictable as the laws of gravity. This science of ideas, as the 
inventor of the term ideology Desrutt de Tracy commented, is a part of 
zoology, one region within a more general science of the human animal. 

The career of Antoine Destutt de Tracy is a fascinating, strangely unsung 
story. 3 Born an aristocrat, he deserted his own class to become one of the 
most combative spokesmen of the revolutionary French bourgeoisie. He is 
thus a classic case of what we shall see later as the Gramscian transition from 
'traditional' to 'organic' intellectual. He fought as a soldier during the French 
revolution and was imprisoned during the Terror, in fact he first hatched the 
concept of a science of ideas in his prison cell. The notion of ideology was 
thus brought to birth in thoroughly ideological conditions: ideology 
belonged to a rational politics, in contrast to the irrationalist barbarism of 
the Terror. If men and women were truly to govern themselves, then the laws 
of their nature must first be patiently scrutinized. What was needed, Tracy 
declared, was a 'Newton of the science of thought', and he himself was a 
clear candidate for the post. Since all science rests upon ideas, ideology 
would oust theology as the queen of them all, guaranteeing their unity. It 
would reconstruct politics, economics and ethics from the ground up, 
moving from the simplest processes of sensation to the loftiest regions of 
spirit. Private property, for example, is based upon a distinction between 
'yours' and 'mine', which can be tracked in turn to a fundamental perceptual 
opposition between *you' and 'me'. 

With the revolution still at its height, Tracy became a prominent 
member of the Institut Nationale, the elite group of scientists and philo- 
sophers who constituted the theoretical wing of the social reconstruction of 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

France. He worked in the Institute's Moral and Political Sciences division, in 
the Section of Analysis of Sensations and Ideas, and was engaged in creating 
for the ecoles centrales of the civil service a new programme of national educa- 
tion which would take the science of ideas as its basis. Napoleon was at first 
delighted by the Institute, proud to be an honorary member, and invited 
Tracy to join him as a soldier in his Egyptian campaign. (Perhaps this was a 
calculated backhanded compliment, since a move from savant to soldier 
would surely have been somewhat regressive.) 

Tracy's fortunes, however, were soon on the wane. As Napoleon began to 
renege on revolutionary idealism, the ideologues rapidly became his bite noir, 
and the concept of ideology itself entered the field of ideological struggle. It 
stood now for political liberalism and republicanism, in conflict with 
Bonapartist authoritarianism. Napoleon claimed to have invented the 
derogatory term 'ideologue' himself, as a way of demoting the men of the 
Institute from scientists and savants to sectarians and subversives. Tracy and 
his kind, so he complained, were 'windbags' and dreamers - a dangerous 
class of men who struck at the roots of political authority and brutally 
deprived men and women of their consolatory fictions. 'You ideologues', he 
grumbled, 'destroy all illusions, and the age of illusions is for individuals as 
for peoples the age of happinesss.' 4 Before long he was seeing ideologues 
under every bed, and even blamed them for his defeat in Russia. He closed 
down the Moral and Political Sciences section of the Instkut Nationale in 
1802, and its members were assigned instead to teach history and poetry. 
One year before, Tracy had begun publishing his Projet d'elements d'idiologie, 
in what can only have been a calculated act of defiance of the new milieu of 
religiose reaction. The continuation of the title of his work reads: 'a I'usagedes 
ecoles centrales de la Republique' - a clear enough indication of its practical, 
political character, its role within what Althusser would later call the 
'ideological state apparatuses'. 'Ideology' is simply the theoretical expression 
of a pervasive strategy of social reconstruction, in which Tracy himself was a 
key functionary. His fight to retain ideology in the ecoles centrales failed, 
however, and it was replaced as a discipline by military instruction. 

In 1812, in the wake of his Russian debacle, Napoleon rounded upon the 
ideologues in a now celebrated speech: 

It is to the doctrine of the ideologues - to this diffuse metaphysics, which in a 
contrived manner seeks to find the primary causes and on this foundation 
would erect the legislation of peoples, instead of adapting the laws to a 



knowledge of the human heart and of the lessons of history - to which 
one must attribute all the misfortunes which have befallen our beloved 
France. 5 

In a notable irony, Napoleon contemptuously brackets the ideologues with 
the very metaphysicians they were out to discredit That there is some truth 
in bis accusation is surely clear: Tracy and his colleagues, true to their ration- 
alist creed, ascribed a foundational role to ideas in social life, and thought a 
politics could be deduced from a priori principles. If they waged war on the 
metaphysical idealism which viewed ideas as spiritual entities, they were at 
one with its belief that ideas were the basis upon which all else rested. But 
Napoleon's irritation strikes a note which was to resound throughout the 
modern period: the impatience of the political pragmatist with the radical 
intellectual, who would dare to theorize the social formation as a whole. It is 
the quarrel in our own time between neo-pragmatists such as Stanley Fish 
and Richard Rorty - unlikely candidates, otherwise, for Napoleon - and the 
political left. The ideologues' commitment to a 'global* analysis of society is 
inseparable from their revolutionary politics, and at loggerheads with 
Bonaparte's mystificatory talk of the 'human heart'. In other terms, it is the 
eternal enmity between humanist and social scientist - an early instance of 
Roland Barthes's dictum that 'System is the enemy of "Man".' If Napoleon 
denounces the ideologues it is because they are the sworn foes of ideology, 
intent on demystifying the sentimental illusions and maundering religiosity 
with which he hoped to legitimate his dictatorial rule. 

In the teeth of Bonaparte's displeasure, Tracy continued work on a second 
volume of his Elements, and snatched time to work on a Grammar. His 
approach to language was too abstract and analytic for Napoleon's taste, 
enraging the latter still further: Tracy insisted on raising questions of the 
origins and functions of language, while Napoleon favoured the study of 
language through the teaching of the French literary classics. Once more, 
'theorist' and 'humanist' were locked in combat, in a philological dispute 
which encoded a political antagonism between radical and reactionary. 
Suspected of involvement in a plot to assassinate the Emperor, Tracy 
opposed him as a senator and produced the final volume of his life's work, 
devoted to the science of economics. Like Marx, he believed that economic 
interests were the final determinants of social life; but he finds in these 
interests a recalcitrance which threatens to undermine his rationalist politics. 
What use is reason, he complains, in persuading the idle rich that they are 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

good for nothing? (Tracy was himself one of France's largest landed proprie- 
tors, and an absentee landlord at that). The final volume of the Elements thus 
presses up against a material limit which it will be left to Marx to cross; and 
the tone of its Conclusion is accordingly defeatist. In turning his eyes to the 
economic realm, Tracy has been forced to confront the radical 'irrationality' 
of social motivations in class-society, the rootedness of thought in selfish 
interests. The concept of ideology is beginning to strain towards its later, 
pejorative meaning, and Tracy himself acknowledges that reason must take 
more account of feeling, character and experience. A month after finishing 
the work, he wrote an article defending suicide. 

Late in his life, Tracy published a work on - of all things - love, which 
was devoured by his admiring disciple StendhaL Tracy spoke up for the 
complete freedom of young women to select their own marriage partners, 
pleaded the cause of unmarried mothers and championed sexual liberty. (His 
proto-feminism had its limits, however women were to be fully educated 
but not allowed the vote.) Thomas Jefferson had him elected to the 
American Philosophical Society, and Tracy in his turn was deluded enough 
to declare the United States 'the hope and example of the world'. When the 
French revolution of 1830 broke out almost literally on his doorstep, the 
elderly Tracy strolled from his house and threw himself on the barricades. 

Marx described Destutt de Tracy as a light among the vulgar economists, 
though he attacked him in both The German Ideology and Capital, dubbing 
him a 'cold-blooded bourgeois-doctrinaire' in the latter work. Emmet 
Kennedy, in his excellent study of Tracy, makes the perceptive point that the 
only volume of his treatise on ideology that Marx probably read is the one 
devoted to economics, and that the appearance of this work of bourgeois 
political economy as part of a general science of ideology might have firmed 
up in Marx's mind the connection between the two. In other words, it might 
have helped to shift Marx from his view of ideology as mere abstract ideas to 
his sense of it as political apologia. 

The emergence of the concept of ideology, then, is no mere chapter in the 
history of ideas. On the contrary, it has the most intimate relation to 
revolutionary struggle, and figures from the outset as a theoretical weapon 
of. class warfare. It arrives on the scene inseparable from the material 
practices of the ideological state apparatuses, and is itself as a notion a theatre 
of contending ideological interests. But if ideology sets out to examine the 
sources of human consciousness, what is to be said of the consciousness 
which performs this operation? Why should that particular mode of reason 



be immune from its own propositions about the material foundations of 
thought? Perhaps the whole concept of ideology is just some biologically 
determined reflex in the head of a French philosophe called Destutt de Tracy, 
with no more objective validity than that. Reason would appear able to 
monitor the whole of reality; but is it able to monitor itself? Or must it be 
the one thing which falls outside the scope of its own analysis? The science 
of ideas would seem to allot itself transcendental status; but it is exactly such 
a claim which its own doctrines put into question. So it is that Hegel, in the 
Phenomenology of Spirit, will induce reason to curve back upon itself, tracing 
its stately progress towards the Absolute all the way from its humble 
germination in our routine sense-data. 

The kernel of Napoleon's criticism of the ideologues is that there is 
something irrational about excessive rationalism. In his eyes, these thinkers 
have pressed through their enquiry into the laws of reason to the point 
where they have become marooned within their own sealed systems, as 
divorced from practical reality as a psychotic. So it is that the term ideology 
gradually shifts from denoting a sceptical scientific materialism to signifying 
a sphere of abstract, disconnected ideas; and it is this meaning of the word 
which will then be taken up by Marx and Engels. 

Karl Marx's theory of ideology is probably best seen as part of his more 
general theory of alienation, expounded in the Economic and Philosophical 
Manuscripts (1844) and elsewhere. 6 In certain social conditions, Marx argues, 
human powers, products and processes escape from the control of human 
subjects and come to assume an apparently autonomous existence. Estranged 
in this way from their agents, such phenomena then come to exert an 
imperious power over them, so that men and women submit to what are in 
fact products of their own activity as though they are an alien force. The 
concept of alienation is thus closely linked to that of 'reification' - for if 
social phenomena cease to be recognizable as the outcome of human 
projects, it is understandable to perceive them as material things, and thus to 
accept their existence as inevitable. 

The theory of ideology embodied in Marx and Engels's The German 
Ideology (1846) belongs with this general logic of inversion and alienation. If 
human powers and institutions can undergo this process, then so can 
consciousness itself. Consciousness is in fact bound up with social practice; 
but for the German idealist philosophers whom Marx and Engels have in 
their sights, it becomes separated from these practices, fetishized to a thing- 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

in-itself, and so, by a process of inversion, can be misunderstood as the very 
source and ground of historical life. If ideas are grasped as autonomous 
entities, then this helps to naturalize and debistoricize them; and this for the 
early Marx is*the secret of all ideology: 

Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. - real, active men, 
as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive 
forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest 
forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, 
and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men 
and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this 
phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as 
the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life- 

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to 
earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. This is to say, we do not set out 
from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought 
of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh We set out 
from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we 
demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this 
life-process — Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by 
life. 7 

The advance here over the Enlightenment philosophes is plain. For those 
thinkers, an 'ideology' would help to dispel errors bred by passion, prejudice 
and vicious interests, all of which blocked the clear light of reason. This 
strain of thought passes on to nineteenth-century positivism and to Emile 
Durkheim, in whose Rules of Sociological Method (1895) ideology means 
among other things allowing preconceptions to tamper with our knowledge 
of real things. Sociology is a 'science of facts', and the scientist must accord- 
ingly free himself of the biases and misconceptions of the layperson in order 
to arrive at a properly dispassionate viewpoint. These ideological habits and 
predispositions, for Durkheim as for the later French philosopher Gaston 
Bachelard, are innate to the mind; and this positivist current of social 
thought, true to its Enlightenment forebears, thus delivers us a psychologistic 
theory of ideology. Marx and Engels, by contrast, look to the historical 
causes and functions of such false consciousness, and so inaugurate the 
major modern meaning of the term whose history we are tracing. They 



arrive at this' view hard on the heels of Ludwig Feuerbach, whose The Essence 
ofChristianity (1841) sought for the sources of religious illusion in humanity's 
actual life conditions, but in a notably dehistoricizing way. Marx and Engels 
were not in fact the first thinkers to see consciousness as socially determined: 
in different ways, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Condorcet had arrived at this 
view before them. 

If ideas are at the very source of historical life, it is possible to imagine 
that one can change society by combatting false ideas with true ones; and it 
is this combination of rationalism and idealism which Marx and Engels are 
rejecting. For them, social illusions are anchored in real contradictions, so 
that only by the practical activity of transforming the latter can the former 
be abolished. A materialist theory of ideology is thus inseparable from a 
revolutionary politics. This, however, involves a paradox. The critique of 
ideology claims at once that certain forms of consciousness are false and that 
this falsity is somehow structural and necessary to a specific social order. The 
falsity of the ideas, we might say, is part of the 'truth' of a whole material 
condition But the theory which identifies this falsehood therefore under- 
cuts itself at a stroke, exposing a situation which simply as a theory it is 
powerless to resolve. The critique of ideology, that is to say, is arthe same 
moment the critique of the critique of ideology. Moreover, ir is not as 
though ideology critique proposes to put something true in place of the 
falsity. In one sense, this critique retains something of a rationalist or En- 
lightenment structure: truth, or theory, will shed light on false conceptions. 
But it is anti-rationalist in so far as what it then proposes is not a set of true 
conceptions, but just the thesis that all ideas, true or false, are grounded in 
practical social activity, and more particularly in the contradictions which 
that activity generates. 

More problems then inevitably follow. Does this mean that true ideas 
would be ideas faithful to practical social activity? Or can their truth or 
falsehood be ascertained independendy of this? Are not the illusions of 
bourgeois society in some sense actually true to its practices? If they are 
rationalizations of contradictions to which those practices give rise, are not 
such misconceptions indeed rooted in the 'real life-process', rather than idly 
autonomous of it? Or is the point that their very autonomy is itself socially 
determined? Is this autonomy merely apparent- a misperceprion on the part 
of human subjects - or is it real? Would true ideas be not just those which 
corresponded to actual practices, but those which corresponded to 'true' 
practices? And what would it mean to say of a practice, as opposed to a 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

meaning, that it was true or raise? 

There are several difficulties with the formulations in the passage quoted 
from The German Ideology. For one thing, the whole vocabulary of 'reflexes' 
and 'echoes' smacks strongly of mechanical. materialism. What distinguishes 
the human animal is that it moves in a world of meaning; and these 
meanings are constitutive of its activities, not secondary to them. Ideas are 
internal to our social practices, not mere spin-offs from them. Human 
existence, as Marx recognizes elsewhere, is purposive or 'intentional' 
existence; and these purposive conceptions form the inner grammar of our 
practical life, without which it would be mere physical motion. The term 
'praxis' has been often enough used by the Marxist tradition to capture this 
indissolubility of action and significance. In general, Marx and Engels 
recognize this well enough; but in their zeal to worst the idealists they risk 
ending up here simply inverting them, retaining a sharp duality between 
'consciousness' and 'practical activity' but reversing the causal relations 
between them. Whereas the Young Hegelians whom they are assailing 
regard ideas as the essence of material life, Marx and Engels just stand this 
opposition on its head. But the antithesis can always be partly deconstructed, 
since 'consciousness' figures, so to speak, on both sides of the equation. 
Certainly there can be no 'real life-process' without it 

The problem may spring from the fact that the term 'consciousness' here 
is being pressed into double service. It can mean 'mental life' in general; or it 
can allude more specifically to particular historical systems of beliefs 
(religious, juridical, political and so on), of the kind Marx will later come to 
ascribe to the so-called 'superstructure' in contrast to the economic 'base'. If 
one is thinking of consciousness in this second sense, as well-articulated 
structures of doctrine, its opposition to 'practical activity' becomes rather 
more plausible. It belongs to the Marxist case that such superstructures are 
indeed estranged from their practical, productive 'base', and the causes of 
this estrangement inhere in the very nature of that material activity. This, 
however, will not entirely meet the point, since for all their alienated 
character such ideological discourses still powerfully condition our real-life 
practices. Political, religious, sexual and other ideological idioms are part of 
the way we 'live' our material conditions, not just the bad dream or dispos- 
able effluence of the infrastructure. But the case holds even less if we keep to 
the broader sense of consciousness, since without it there would be no 
distinctively human activity at alL Factory labour is not a set of material 
practices plus a set of notions about it; without certain embodied intentions, 



meanings, interpretations, it would not count as factory labour at all. 

It is necessary, then, to distinguish two rather different cases which The 
German Ideology threatens to conflate. On the one hand, there is a general 
materialist thesis that ideas and material activity are inseparably bound up 
together, as against the idealist tendency to isolate and privilege the former. 
On the other hand, there is the historical materialist argument that certain 
historically specific forms of consciousness become separated out from 
productive activity, and can best be explained in terms of their functional 
role in sustaining it. In The German Ideology it is occasionally as though Marx 
and Engels illicitly fold the latter case into the former, viewing \vhat men 
and women actually do' as a kind of 'base', and their ideas about what they 
do as a sort of 'superstructure'. But the relation between my act of frying an 
egg and my conceptions about it is not the same as the relation between the 
economic activities of capitalist society and the rhetoric of parliamentary 
democracy. One might add that thinking, writing and imagining are of 
course just as much part of the 'real life-process' as digging ditches and 
subverting military juntas; and that if the phrase 'real life-process' is in this 
sense disablingly narrow in Marx and Engels's text it is also unhelpfully 
amorphous, undifferentiatedly spanning the whole of 'sensuous practice'. 

At one point in their work, Marx and Engels would seem to conjure a 
chronological difference out of this distinction between two meanings of 
'consciousness', when they remark that 'the production of ideas, of concep- 
tions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material 
activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life.' 8 What 
they have in mind here is the momentous historical event of the division of 
mental and manual labour. Once an economic surplus permits a minority of 
'professional' thinkers to be released from the exigencies of labour, it 
becomes possible for consciousness to 'flatter' itself that it is in fact in- 
dependent of material reality. 'From now on', Marx and Engels observe, 
'consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to 
proceed to the formation of "pure" theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc." 
So it is as though one epistemological case holds true for societies predating 
the division of mental and manual labour, while another is appropriate to all 
subsequent history. This cannot of course be what they mean: the 'practical' 
consciousness of priests and philosophers will continue to be 'directly 
interwoven' with their material activity, even if the theoretical doctrines 
they produce are loftily aloof from it. The important point, however, is that 
the schism between ideas and social reality explored by the text is, so to 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

speak, a dislocation internal to social reality itself, in specific historical 
conditions. It may be an illusion to believe that ideas are the essence of social 
life; but it is not an illusion to believe that they are relatively autonomous of 
it, since this is itself a material fact with particular social determinations. 
And once this condition has set in, it provides the real material basis for the 
former ideological error. It is not just that ideas have floated free of social 
existence, perhaps on account of the hubris of a handful of intellectuals; on 
the contrary, this 'externality' of ideas to the material life-process is itself 
internal to that process. 

The German Ideology appears at once to argue that consciousness is indeed 
always 'practical' consciousness, so that to view it in any other light is an 
idealist illusion; and that ideas are sheerly secondary to material existence. It 
therefore needs a kind of imagery which equivocates between seeing 
consciousness as indissociable from action, and regarding it as separable and 
'inferior'; and it finds this in the language of 'reflexes', 'echoes' and 'sub- 
limates'. A reflex is in one sense part of what it reflects, as my image in the 
mirror is in some sense me, and at the same time a secondary, 'second best' 
phenomenon. Why Marx and Engels want to relegate consciousness to this 
second-hand status is clear enough; for if what we think we are doing is 
actually constitutive of what we are doing, if our conceptions are internal to 
our practice, what room does this leave for false consciousness? Is it enough 
to ask George Bush what he thinks he is doing to arrive at a satisfactory 
account of his role within advanced capitalism? Marx and Engels see well 
enough that human agents are often for good historical reasons self- 
deceived as to the significance of their own actions; I have no unfailingly 
privileged access to the meaning of my own behaviour, and you can some- 
times supply me with a more cogent explanation of it than I can produce 
myself. But it does not follow from this that there is something called 'what 
we do' which is independent of meanings altogether. For an action to be a 
human practice, it must incarnate meaning; but its more general significance 
is not necessarily the one the agent ascribes to it. When Marx and Engels 
speak of setting out from 'real, active men' rather than from what these 
'men' say, imagine and conceive, they sail perilously close to a naive sensuous 
empiricism which fails to grasp that there is no 'real life-process' without 
interpretation. To attempt to 'suspend' this realm of meaning in order the 
better to examine 'real' conditions would be like killing a patient to examine 
more conveniently the circulation of her blood. As Raymond Williams has 
commented, this 'objectivist fantasy' presumes that real life conditions 'can 



be known independently of language and of historical records'. It is not, 
Williams observes, as though there is 'first material social life and then, at 
some temporal or spatial distance, consciousness and "its" products ... 
consciousness and its products are always, though in variable forms, parts of 
the material social process itself. 10 Marx and Engels's hypnotic insistence on 
terms like 'real', 'sensuous, 'actual', 'practical', briskly and scornfully 
contrasted with mere 'ideas', makes them a sound a litde like F.R. Leavis on a 
bad day. And just as they cannot ignore interpretation in the case of the men 
and women they discuss, neither can they overlook it in their own case. For 
although they claim in empiricist vein to have no premisses of their own 
other than that of starting from 'real men', it is of course clear enough that 
what counts for them as real is by no means innocent of theoretical 
assumptions. In this sense too, the 'real life-process' is bound up with 
'consciousness': that of the analysts themselves. 

We need, however, to look rather more closely at the metaphor of 
'inversion' which controls much of this account of ideology. It should be 
noted first of all that to invert a polarity is not necessarily to transform it 
Little is to be gained by upending idealism into mechanical materialism, 
making thought a function of reality rather than vice versa. Ironically 
enough, this gesture mimes idealism in the act of upbraiding it, since a 
thought reduced to a 'reflex' or 'sublimate' is quite as immaterial as one 
sequestered from reality. The celebrated camera obscure image is telling here, 
suggesting as it does that the Hegelians have simply got the world the wrong 
way up. The image itself has a history stretching back to the father of 
empiricist philosophy John Locke, who like many others saw the camera 
obscura as a prototype of exact, scientific reflection. It is thus ironic, as WJ.T. 
Mitchell points out, that Marx should use this same device as the very model 
of illusion" Yet the empiricist history behind the metaphor is retained in 
Marx's deployment of ic the human mind is like a camera, passively 
recording objects in the external world. Given the assumption that the 
camera cannot lie, the only way in which it could generate distortion would 
be by some kind of built-in interference with the image. For this camera has 
no operator, and we therefore cannot speak of ideology on this model as an 
active slanting, editing and misinterpreting of social reality, as we could, say, 
in the case of the hand-held camera of the news photographer. The 
implication of the metaphor, then, is that idealism is really a kind of inverted 
empiricism. Instead of deriving ideas from reality, it derives reality from 
ideas. But this is surely a caricature of philosophical idealism, one partly 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

determined by the image in question. For the thinkers whom Marx and 
Engels are seeking to combat are not just topsy-turvy empiricists or capsized 
mechanical materialists: on. the contrary, one of the most valuable aspects of 
their theory for Marxism itself is that human consciousness is an active, 
dynamic force. Marxist thinkers as diverse as Lenin and Lukacs will later 
turn this notion to revolutionary ends; but the camera obscura model is really 
unable to accommodate it This distincdy uninnocent figure forces idealism 
into its own empiricist mould, defining it as its mere opposite. 

This blindspot has disabling effects on the text's overall theory of 
ideology. For it is hard to see on this account how ideology can be in any 
sense an active social force, organizing the experience of human subjects in 
accordance with the requirements of a specific social order. Its effects, 
instead, would seem almost entirely negative: it is merely a set of chimeras 
which perpetuate that order by distracting its citizens from otherwise palpable 
inequality and injustice. Ideology here is essentially otherworldliness: an 
imaginary resolution of real contradictions which blinds men and women to 
the harsh actuality of their social conditions. Its function is less to equip 
them with certain discourses of value and belief relevant to their daily tasks, 
than to denigrate that whole quotidian realm in contrast with a fantasized 
metaphysical world. It is as though ideology has no particular interest in, say, 
inculcating the virtues of thrift, honesty and industriousness in the working 
class by a range of disciplinary techniques, but simply denies that the sphere 
of work has much significance at all in contrast with the kingdom of heaven 
or the Absolute Idea. And whether any regime could reproduce itself by dint 
of an ideology as generalized and negative as this is surely questionable. 

WJ.T Mitchell has pointed out that one implication of the camera obscura 
figure is of a pure, unmediated relation between human subjects and their 
social environment, and that this emphasis is clearly at odds with what the 
text has to say elsewhere about consciousness as a social product 12 Indeed, as 
Mitchell observes, the assumption that the sensuous world is given direcdy 
to consciousness is part of what the authors of The German Ideology criticize 
elsewhere in the work of Feuerbach. Marx and Engels, in other words, tend 
to counterpose a doctrine of the socially constructed nature of knowledge 
against a naive sensuous empiricism, and a naive sensuous empiricism 
against idealism's insistence on the discursively mediated nature of reality. At 
one level, they perpetuate in transformed mode the 'ideology' of the 
Enlightenment, reducing ideas to sensational life - though that life is now 
firmly defined as practical, social and productive. At another level, from a 



wholly opposed political perspective, they share in Napoleon's brisk 
pragmatic contempt for 'ideology', in the sense of a fantastical idealism. 

For The German Ideology, ideological consciousness would seem to involve a 
double movement of inversion and dislocation. Ideas are assigned priority in 
social life, and simultaneously disconnected from it One can follow the 
logic of this dual operation easily enough: to make ideas the source of 
history is to deny their social determinants, and so to uncouple them from 
history. But it is not clear that such an inversion need always entail such a 
dislocation. One could imagine someone holding that consciousness was 
autonomous of material life without necessarily believing that it was its 
foundation; and one can equally imagine someone asserting that mind was 
the essence of ail reality without claiming that it was isolated from it. In fact 
the latter position is probably that of Hegel himself. Does ideology 
essentially consist in seeing ideas as socially deterrnining, or in regarding 
them as autonomous? An ideologue like de Tracy might be said to hold to 
the former case, but not to the latter. Marx himself thought the French 
ideologues were idealists, in so far as they dehistoricized human conscious- 
ness and ascribed it a foundational social role; but they are plainly not ideal- 
ists in the sense of believing that ideas drop from the sky. There is a problem, 
in other words, about how far this model of ideology can be generalized as a 
paradigm of all false consciousness. Marx and Engels are of course 
examining the German ideology, a particular current of neo-Hegelian 
idealism, but their formulations have often enough a universalizing flavour 
about them. In fact - in a deleted passage of the work - they remark that 
what is true of German thought is true of other nations too. The obvious 
riposte to this, as Marx and Engels in other moods well knew, is that not all 
ideology is idealist Marx certainly regarded Hobbes, Condillac and 
Bentham as full-blooded ideologists, yet all three are in some sense material- 
ists. Only in a broad sense of 'idealism', meaning in effect dehistoricizing or 
presuming some invariable human essence, can they be said to be guilty of 
the charge. But to dehistoricize is not synonymous with being an idealist, 
just as, conversely, an idealism such as Hegel's is profoundly historical. 

Is it not possible that certain ideas may have a firm root in. material 
reality, yet still be ideological? Must ideas be empty illusions to qualify for 
ideological status? Marx and Engels do not of course assume that any old 
abstract idea is ideological: mathematical concepts are not usually so. But the 
disconnectedness of thought from practical existence, in ways which serve 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

objectionable political ends, would seem for them definitive of the notion. 
There is then a strong temptation to believe that we have only to put ideas 
and reality back together again for all to be well. This is not, of course, Marx 
and Engels's own case: to overcome false consciousness demands tackling the 
social contradictions which generate it, not simply reuniting abstruse ideas 
with their lost social origins. But in the hands of somewhat more 'vulgar' 
Marxists, there is sometimes a suggestion that ideas are in a healthy state 
when closely imbricated with social practice. The objection to this is that 
Edmund Burke would have found it entirely unobjectionable. A whole 
lineage of conservative thought has turned on the 'organic' interpenetrarion 
of conceptual thought and lived experience, as nervous as Marx and Engels 
themselves of purely speculative notions. It is then possible to imagine that 
ideology is not particular kinds of ideas with specific functions and effects, 
but just ideas which have somehow come unstuck from sensuous reality. 

The ideas of the ruling class', The German Ideology famously proclaims, 
'are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material 
force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.' 13 He who 
dominates material production controls mental production too. But this 
political model of ideology does not entirely square with the more episte- 
mological conception of it as thought oblivious to its social origin. What is 
it, then, that makes ideas ideological? That they are cut loose from their 
social moorings, or that they are weapons of a dominant class? And does the 
latter necessarily entail the former? The ruling ideas', the text goes on to 
comment, 'are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant 
material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as 
ideas." 4 This would suggest a more 'internal' relation between ideology and 
material life than the 'illusion' model perhaps permits; but elsewhere the 
work runs both emphases together by speaking of these ruling ideas as 
'merely the illusory forms in which the real struggles of the different classes 
are fought out.' 15 Yet if these forms encode real struggles, in what sense are 
they illusory? Perhaps in the sense that they are purely 'phenomenal' modes 
concealing ulterior motivations; yet this sense of 'illusory' need not be 
synonymous with 'false'. Appearances, as Lenin reminds us, are after all real 
enough; there may be a discrepancy between material conflicts and the 
ideological forms which express them, but this does not necessarily mean 
that those forms are either false (untrue to what is the case) or 'unreal'. 

The text, in other words, hesitates significantly between a political and an 
epistemological definition of ideology. Ideas may be said to be ideological 



because they deny their roots in social life with politically oppressive effects; 
or they may be ideological for exacdy the opposite reason - that they are the 
direct expressions of material interests, real instruments of class warfare. It so 
happens that Marx and Engels are confronting a ruling class whose 
consciousness is heavily 'metaphysical' in character; and since this meta- 
physic is put to politically dominative uses, the two opposed senses of 
ideology are at one in the historical situation The German Ideology examines. 
But there is no reason to suppose that all ruling classes need to inflect their 
interests in such a speculative style. Later on, in the Preface to the Contribution 
to a Critique of Political Economy (1859), Marx will write of 'the legal, political, 
religious, aesthetic, or philosophic - in short, ideological forms in which 
men become conscious of this (economic) conflict and fight it out.' The 
reference to illusory forms, significandy, has here been dropped; there is no 
particular suggestion that these 'superstructural' modes are in any sense 
chimerical or fantastic. The definition of ideology, we may note, has also 
been widened to encompass all 'men', rather than just the governing class; 
ideology has now the rather less pejorative sense of the class struggle at the 
level of ideas, with no necessary implication that these ideas are always false. 
In fact in Theories of Surplus Value Marx draws a distinction between what he 
calls 'the ideological component parts of the ruling class' and the 'free 
spiritual production of this particular social formation', one instance of the 
latter being art and poetry. 

The Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy lays out the 
famous (or notorious) Marxist formulation of 'base' and 'superstructure', and 
seems to locate ideology firmly within the latter: 

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that 
are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production that 
correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive 
forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the econ- 
omic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and poli- 
tical superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social 
consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, 
political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of 
men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that 
determines their consciousness. 16 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

We can take it, perhaps, that 'definite forms of social consciousness* is 
equivalent to ideology, though the equation is not unproblematic. There 
could be forms of social consciousness which were non-ideological, either in 
the sense of not helping to legitimate class-rule, or in the sense that they 
were not particularly central to any form of power-struggle. Marxism itself 
is a form of social consciousness, but whether it is an ideology depends on 
which meaning of the term one has in mind. Marx clearly has in mind here 
specific historical belief-systems and 'world views'; and, as I have argued in 
the case of The German Ideology, it is rather more plausible to see conscious- 
ness in this sense as determined by material practice, rather than conscious- 
ness in its wider sense of meanings, values, intentions and the rest It is hard 
to see how that can be simply 'superstructural', if it is actually internal to 
material production. 

But if Marx is speaking historically here, what are we to make of the final 
sentence of the quotation? 'It is not the consciousness of men that deter- 
mines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines 
their consciousness'. This is an ontological, not just an historical, claim; it 
follows for Marx from the way the human animal is constituted, and would 
be true of all men and women in all historical epochs. One effect of this 
properly universalizing doctrine is to make the 'base-superstructure' thesis 
with which it sits cheek by jowl appear to be universal too. Not all Marxists, 
however, have taken this view; and whether Marx himself did elsewhere in 
his work is a matter of debate. For we can always raise the question: why does 
human productive activity need a superstructure? And one answer to that 
question would be: because in all history to date it has involved exploitative 
social relations, which must then be ratified and regulated in legal, political 
and ideological terms. A superstructure is necessary because the material 
base is self-divided. And were it to overcome those divisions, so some 
Marxists have contended, the superstructure would wither away. In a full 
communist society, so the argument goes, there would no longer be any 
need for a political state which set itself over against civil society, or for a 
legitimating ruling ideology, or even for the paraphernalia of an abstract 

Implicit in the notion of a superstructure, in other words, is the idea of 
certain institutions which are estranged from material life, set over against it 
as a dominative force. Whether such institutions - law courts, the political 
state, ideological apparatuses - could in fact ever be abolished, or whether 
such a claim is idly Utopian, is not the point to pursue here. What is rather at 



issue is the apparent contradiction between this historical version of the base- 
superstructure doctrine, which would see the superstructure as functional 
for the regulation of class struggle, and the more universal implications of 
Marx's comment about consciousness and social being. On the former 
model, ideology has a limited historical life-span: once the contradictions of 
class society had been surmounted, it would wither away along with the rest 
of the superstructure. On the latter version, ideology might be taken to 
mean something like the way the whole of our consciousness is conditioned 
by material factors. And this will presumably not change with the establish- 
ment of full communism, since it is just as much a part of our biological 
make-up as the need to eat. The twin emphases of the quoted passage, then, 
point respectively towards the narrower and the broader senses of ideology 
that we have examined already; but the relationship between them is not 
exactly clear. A political case is caught up, somewhat obscurely, with an 
ontological or epistemological one: is a superstructure (and ideology along 
with it) a historically functional phenomenon, or is it as natural to human 
societies as breathing? 

The base-superstructure doctrine has been widely attacked for being 
static, hierarchical, dualistic and mechanistic, even in those more sophis- 
ticated accounts of it in which the superstructure reacts back dialectically to 
condition the material base. It might therefore be timely and suitably 
unfashionable to enter a word or two in its defence. Let us be clear first what 
it is not asserting. It is not out to argue that prisons and parliamentary 
democracy, school rooms and sexual fantasies, are any less real than steel 
mills or sterling. Churches and cinemas are quite as material as coal mines; it 
is just that, on this argument, they cannot be the ultimate catalysts of 
revolutionary social change. The point of the base-superstructure doctrine 
lies in the question of determinations - of what 'level' of social life most 
powerfully and crucially conditions the others, and therefore of what arena 
of activity would be most relevant to effecting a thoroughgoing social 

To select material production as this crucial determinant is in one sense 
to do no more than state the obvious. For there is surely no doubt that this is 
what the vast majority of men and women throughout history have spent 
their time engaged on. A socialist is just someone who is unable to get over 
his or her astonishment that most people who have lived and died have spent 
lives of wretched, fruidess, unremitting toil. Arrest history at any point 
whatsoever, and this is what we will find. The sheer struggle for material 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

survival and reproduction, in conditions of real or artificially induced 
scarcity, has tied up such enormous resources of human energy that we 
would surely expect to find its traces inscribed in the rest of what we do. 
Material production, then, is 'primary' in the sense that it forms the major 
narrative of history to date; but it is primary also in the sense that without 
this particular narrative, no other story would ever get off the ground. Such 
production is the precondition of the whole of our thought. The base- 
superstructure model, to be sure, claims more than just this: it asserts not 
only that material production is the precondition of our other activities, but 
that it is the most fundamental determinant of them. 'Food first, morals later' 
is only a statement of the doctrine if some causal efficacy of food upon 
morals is being suggested. It is not just a question of priorities. How then is 
this determinacy best to be grasped? 

'Superstructure' is a relational term. It designates the way in which certain 
social institutions act as 'supports' of the dominant social relations. It invites 
us to contextualize such institutions in a certain way - to consider them in 
their functional relations to a ruling social power. What is misleading, in my 
view at least, is to leap from this 'adjectival' sense of the term to a substantive 
- to a fixed, given 'realm' of institutions which form 'the superstructure', and 
which includes, say, film. Are cinemas superstructural phenomena? The 
answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. There may be aspects of a 
particular movie which underwrite the given power relations, and which are 
to that extent 'superstructural'. But there may be other aspects of it which do 
not. An institution may behave 'superstructurally' at one point in time, but 
not at another, or in some of its activities but not in others. You can examine 
a literary text in terms of its publishing history, in which case, as far as the 
Marxist model goes, you are treating it as part of the material base of social 
production. Or you can count up the number of semicolons, an activity 
which would seem to fit neatly into neither level of the model. But once you 
explore that text's relations to a dominant ideology, then you are treating it 
superstructurally. The doctrine, in other words, becomes rather more 
plausible when it is viewed less as an ontological carving of the world down 
the middle than as a question of different perspectives. If it is doubtful 
whether Marx and Engels themselves would have agreed with this reform- 
ulation of their thesis, it is also doubtful in my view whether it matters 

So far, then, we seem to be landed by Marx with at least three contending 
senses of ideology, with no very clear idea of their interrelations. Ideology 



can denote illusory or socially disconnected beliefs which see themselves as 
the ground of history, and which by distracting men and women from their 
actual social conditions (including the social determinants of their ideas), 
serve to sustain an oppressive political power. The opposite of this would be 
an accurate, unbiased knowledge of practical social conditions. Alternatively, 
ideology can signify those ideas which directly express the material interests 
of the dominant social class, and which are useful in promoting its rule. The 
opposite of this might be either true scientific knowledge, or the conscious- 
ness of the non-dominant classes. Finally, ideology can be stretched to 
encompass all of the conceptual forms in which the class struggle as a whole 
is fought out, which would presumably include the valid consciousness of 
politically revolutionary forces. What the opposite of this might be is 
presumably any conceptual form not currently caught up in such struggle. 

As if all this were not enough, Marx's later economic writing will come 
up with a quite different version of ideology, to which we can now turn. 

In his chapter on The Fetishism of Commodities' in Volume One of Capital 
(1867), Marx argues that in capitalist society the actual social relations 
between human beings are governed by the apparently autonomous inter- 
actions of the commodities they produce: 

A commodity, therefore, is a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social 
characcer of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped 
upon the product of that labour, because the relation of the producers 
to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a 
social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products 
of their labour.... It is a definite social relation between men, that 
assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In 
order ... to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped 
regions of the religious world. In that world, the productions of the 
human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and 
entering into relations both with one another and with the human 
race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's 
hands. 17 

The earlier theme of alienation is here extended: men and women fashion 
products which then come to escape their control and determine their 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

conditions of existence. A fluctuation on the stock exchange can mean 
unemployment for thousands. By virtue of this 'commodity fetishism', real 
human relations appear, mystifyingly, as relations between things; and this 
has several consequences of an ideological kind. First, the real workings of 
society are thereby veiled and occluded: the social character of labour is 
concealed behind the circulation of commodities, which are no longer 
recognizable as social products. Secondly - though this is a point developed 
only by the later Marxist tradition - society is fragmented by this 
commodity logic: it is no longer easy to grasp it as a totality, given the 
atomizing operations of the commodity, which transmutes the collective 
activity of social labour into relations between dead, discrete things. And by 
ceasing to appear as a totality, the capitalist order renders itself less vulner- 
able to political critique. Finally, the fact that social life is dominated by 
inanimate entities lends it a spurious air of naturalness and inevitability: 
society is no longer perceptible as a human construct, and therefore as 
humanly alterable. 

It is clear, then, that the motif of inversion passes over from Marx's early 
comments on ideology to his 'mature' work Several things, however, have 
decisively altered in transit. To begin with, this curious inversion between 
human subjects and their conditions of existence is now inherent in social 
reality itself. It is not simply a question of the distorted perception of human 
beings, who invert the real world in their consciousness and thus imagine 
that commodities control their lives. Marx is not claiming that under 
capitalism commodities appear to exercise a tyrannical sway over social 
relations; he is arguing that they actually do. Ideology is now less a matter of 
reality becoming inverted in the mind, than of the mind reflecting a real 
inversion. In fact it is no longer primarily a question of consciousness at all, but 
is anchored in the day-to-day economic operations of the capitalist system. 
And if this is so then ideology has been, so to speak, transferred from the 
superstructure to the base, or at least signals some peculiarly close relation 
between them. It is a function of the capitalist economy itself, which as Alex 
Callinicos observes 'produces its own misperception', 18 rather than in the 
first place a matter of discourses, beliefs and 'superstructure? institutions. 
We need, then, as Etienne Balibar puts it, 'to think both the real and the 
imaginary within ideology', 19 rather than conceiving of these realms as 
simply external to one another. 

Elsewhere in Capital, Marx argues that there is a disjunction in capitalism 
between how things actually are and how they present themselves - 



between, in Hegelian terms, 'essences' and 'phenomena'. The wage relation, 
for example, is in reality an unequal, exploitative affair; but it 'naturally' 
presents itself as an equal, reciprocal exchange of so much money for so 
much labour. As Jorge Larrain usefully summarizes these dislocations: 

Circulation, for instance, appears as that which is immediately present on the 
surface of bourgeois society, but its immediate being is pure semblance. . . . 
Profit is a phenomenal form of surplus-value which has the virtue 
of obscuring the real basis of its existence. Competition is a phenomenon 
which conceals the determination of value by labour-rime. The 
value-relation between commodities disguises a definite social relation 
between men. The wage-form extinguishes every trace of the division of 
the working-day into necessary labour and surplus labour, and so 

Once again, all this is not in the first place a question of some misperceiving 
consciousness: it is rather that there is a kind of dissembling or duplicity 
built into the very economic structures of capitalism, such that it cannot 
help presenting itself to consciousness in ways askew to what it actually is. 
Mystification, so to speak, is an 'objective' fact, embedded in the very 
character of the system: there is an unavoidable structural contradiction 
between that system's real contents, and the phenomenal forms in which 
those contents proffer themselves spontaneously to the mind. As Norman 
Geras has written: There exists, at the interior of capitalism, a kind of 
internal rupture between the social relations which obtain and the manner 
in which they are experienced.' 21 And if this is so, then ideology cannot 
spring in the first instance from the consciousness of a dominant class, still 
less from some sort of conspiracy. As John Mepham puts the point: ideology 
is now not a matter of the bourgeoisie, but of bourgeois society. 2 * 

In the case of commodity fetishism, the mind reflects an inversion in 
reality itself; and there are thorny theoretical problems about what an 
'inversion in reality* could possibly mean. In the case of some other capitalist 
economic processes, however, the mind reflects a phenomenal form which is 
itself an inversion of the real. For the sake of explication, we can break this 
operation down into three distinct moments. First, some kind of inversion 
takes place in the real world: instead of living labour employing inanimate 
capital, for example, dead capital controls live labour. Secondly, there is a 
disjunction or contradiction between this real state of affairs, and the way it 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

'phenomenally' appears: in the wage contract, the outward form rectifies the 
inversion, to make the relations between labour and capital seem equal and 
symmetrical. In a third moment, this phenomenal form is obediently 
reflected by the mind, and this is how ideological consciousness is bred. 
Note that whereas in The German Ideology ideology was a matter of not 
seeing things as they really were, it is a question in Capital of reality itself 
being duplicitous and deceitful. Ideology can thus no longer be unmasked 
simply by a clear-eyed attention to the 'real life-process', since that process, 
rather like the Freudian unconscious, puts out a set of semblances which are 
somehow structural to it, includes its falsity within its truth. What is needed 
instead is 'science' - for science, as Marx comments, becomes necessary once 
essences and appearances fail to coincide. We would not require scientific 
labour if the law of physics were spontaneously apparent to us, inscribed on 
the bodies of the objects around us. 

The advantage of this new theory of ideology over the case pressed in The 
German Ideology is surely clear. Whereas ideology in the earlier work 
appeared as idealist speculation, it is now given a secure grounding in the 
material practices of bourgeois society. It is no longer wholly reducible to 
false consciousness: the idea of falsity lingers on in the notion of deceptive 
appearances, but these are less fictions of the mind than structural effects of 
capitalism. If capitalist reality folds its own falsehood within itself, then this 
falsehood must be somehow real. And there are ideological effects such as 
commodity fetishism which are by no means unreal, however much they 
may involve mystification. One might feel, however, that if The German 
Ideology risks relegating ideological forms to a realm of unreality, the later 
work of Marx pulls them a little too close to reality for comfort. Have we not 
merely replaced a potential idealism of ideology with an incipient economism 
of it? Is all that we dub ideology really reducible to the economic operations 
of capitalism? Georg Lukacs will claim later that 'there is no problem that 
does not ultimately lead back to [the] question [of commodity production]; 
and that this structure 'permeases] every expression of life';" but one might 
find the claim a trifle overweening. In what important sense, for instance, 
can the doctrine that men are superior to women, or whites to blacks, be 
traced back to some secret source in commodity production? And what are 
we to say of the ideological formations of societies to which commodity 
production is as yet unknown, or not yet central? A certain essentialism of 
ideology would seem at play here, reducing the variety of ideological 
mechanisms and effects to a homogeneous cause. Moreover, if the capitalist 



economy has its own built-in devices of deception - if, as Theodor Adorno 
somewhere remarks, 'the commodity is its own ideology' - what need is 
there for specifically ideological institutions at the level of the 'super- 
structure'? Perhaps just to reinforce effects already endemic in the economy, 
but the answer is surely a little lame. Marx may well have discovered one 
potent source of false consciousness in bourgeois society; but whether this 
can be generalized to account for ideology as a whole is surely questionable. 
In what sense, for example, is this view of ideology tied up with class 
struggle? The theory of commodity fetishism forges a dramatically 
immediate link between capitalist productive activity and human conscious- 
ness, between the economic and the experiential; but it does so, one might 
claim, only by short-circuiting the level of the specifically political. Are all 
social classes indifferently in the grip of commodity fetishism? Do workers, 
peasants and capitalists all share the same ideological universe, universally 
imprinted as they are by the material structures of capitalism? 

Marx's case in the 'Fetishism of Commodities' chapter would seem to 
retain two dubious features from his earlier version of ideology: its 
empiricism, and its negativism. Capital appears to argue that our perception 
(or misperception) of reality is somehow already immanent in reality itself; 
and this belief, that the real already contains the knowledge or mis- 
knowledge of itself, is arguably an empiricist doctrine. What it suppresses is 
precisely the business of what human agents make, variably and conflictively, 
of these material mechanisms - of how they discursively construct and 
interpret them in accordance with particular interests and beliefs. Human 
subjects figure here as the mere passive recipients of certain objective effects, 
the dupes of a social structure given spontaneously to their consciousness. 
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is said to have enquired of a 
colleague why people considered it more natural to hold that the sun moved 
round the earth rather than vice versa. On being told that it simply looked 
that way, he enquired what it would look like if the earth moved round the 
sun. The point, of course, is that one does not here simply derive an error 
from the nature of the appearances, for the appearances are in both cases the 

If the later theory also reproduces the negativism of The German Ideology, 
it is because ideology would once more seem to have no other purpose than 
to conceal the truth of class society. It is less an active force in the constitution 
of human subjectivity than a mask or screen which prevents an already 
constituted subject from grasping what lies in front of it. And this, whatever 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

partial truth it may contain, surely fails to account for the real power and 
complexity of ideological formations. 

Marx himself never used the phrase 'false consciousness', a distinction which 
must be accorded instead to his collaborator Frederick Engels. In a letter to 
Franz Mehring of 1893, Engels speaks of ideology as a process of false 
consciousness because 'the real motives impelling [the agent] remain 
unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. 
Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.' Ideology is here in effect 
rationalization - a kind of double motivation, in which the surface meaning 
serves to block from consciousness the subject's true purpose. It is perhaps 
not surprising that this definition of ideology should have arisen in the age 
of Freud. As Joe McCarney has argued, the falsehood at stake here is a matter 
of self-deception, not of getting the world wrong. 24 There is no reason to 
suppose that the surface belief necessarily involves empirical falsity, or is in 
any sense 'unreal'. Someone really may love animals, while being unaware 
that his benign authority over them compensates for a lack of power within 
the labour process. Engels goes on in his letter to add the familiar rider from 
The German Ideology about 'autonomous' thought, but it is not evident why 
all those who are deceived about their own motives should be victims of a 
gullible trust in 'pure thought'. What Engels means is that in the process of 
rationalization the true motive stands to the apparent one as the 'real life- 
process' stands to the illusory idea in the earlier model But in that model, 
the ideas in question were also often false 'in themselves', metaphysical delu- 
sions with no root in reality, whereas the apparent motive in rationalization 
may be authentic enough 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, in the period of the Second 
International, ideology continues to retain the sense of false consciousness, 
in contrast to a 'scientific socialism' which has discerned the true laws of 
historical development. Ideology, according to Engels in Anti-Duhring, can 
then be seen as the 'deduction of reality not from itself but from a concept' 25 
- a formulation which it is hard to make much sense o£ Lurking on the 
edges of this particular definition, however, is a broader sense of ideology as 
any kind of socially determined thought, which is really too elastic to be of 
much use. For the Marx of The German Ideology all thought is socially 
determined, but ideology is thought which denies this determination, or 
rather thought so socially determined as to deny its own determinants. But a 
new current is also stirring in this period, which picks up on the later Marx's 



sense of ideology as the mental forms within which men and women fight 
out their social conflicts, and which thus begins to speak boldly of 'socialist 
ideology', a phrase which for The German Ideology would have been 
oxymoronic The revisionist Marxist Eduard Bernstein was the first to dub 
Marxism itself an ideology, and in What Is To Be Done? we find Lenin 
declaring that 'the only choice is - either bourgeois or socialist ideology'. 
Socialism, Lenin writes, is 'the ideology of struggle of the proletarian class'; 
but he does not mean by this that socialism is the spontaneous expression of 
proletarian consciousness. On the contrary, 'in the class struggle of the 
proletariat which develops spontaneously, as an elemental force, on the basis 
of capitalist relations, socialism is introduced by the ideologues.' 26 Ideology, in 
short, has now become identical with the scientific theory of historical 
materialism, and we have returned full circle to the Enlightenment 
philosopher The 'ideologist' is no longer one floundering in false conscious- 
ness but the exact reverse, the scientific analyst of the fundamental laws of 
society and its thought formations. 

The situation, in short, is now thoroughly confused. Ideology would now 
seem to denote simultaneously false consciousness (Engels), all socially 
conditioned thought (Plekhanov), the political crusade of socialism 
(Bernstein and sometimes Lenin), and the scientific theory of socialism 
{Lenin). It is not hard to see how these confusions have come about. They 
stem in effect from the equivocation we noted in the work of Marx between 
ideology as illusion, and ideology as the intellectual armoury of a social class. 
Or, to put it another way, they reflect a conflict between the epistemological 
and political meanings of the term. In the second sense of the word, what 
matters is not the character of the beliefs in question, but their function and 
perhaps their origin; and there is thus no reason why these beliefs should 
necessarily be false in themselves. True conceptions can be put to the service 
of a dominant power. The falsity of ideology in this context, then, is the 
'falsity' of class rule itself; but here, crucially, the term 'false* has shifted 
ground from its epistemological to its ethical sense. Once one has adopted 
this definition, however, the path is then open to extending the term 
ideology to proletarian class consciousness too, since that is also a matter of 
deploying ideas for political purposes. And if ideology thus comes to mean 
any system of doctrines expressive of class interests and serviceable in their 
realization, there is no reason why it should not, a la Lenin, be used of 
Marxism itself. 

As the meaning of ideology mutates in this way, so, inevitably, does 


From Enlightenment to Second International 

whatever is held to be its opposite. For The German Ideology, the opposite of 
ideology would seem to be seeing reality as it actually is; for Capital things 
are not so simple, since that reality, as we have seen, is now intrinsically 
treacherous, and there is thus the need for a special discourse known as 
science to penetrate its phenomenal forms and lay bare its essences. Once 
ideology shifts from its epistemological to its more political sense, there are 
now two candidates available as its antithesis, and the relations between 
them are deeply fraught. What can counter the dominant ideology is either 
the science of historical materialism, or proletarian class consciousness. For 
'historicist' Marxism, as we shall see in the next chapter, the former is 
essentially an 'expression' of the latter: Marxist theory is the fullest self- 
consciousness of the revolutionary working class. For Leninism, ideology in 
the sense of 'scientific theory' must maintain a certain enabling distance 
from ideology in the sense of proletarian class consciousness, in order to 
intervene creatively within it. 

But the wider meaning of ideology as any form of socially determined 
thought intervenes to interrogate this distinction. If all thought is socially 
determined, then so too must be Marxism, in which case what becomes of 
its claims to scientific objectivity? Yet if these claims are simply dropped, 
how are we to adjudicate between the truth of Marxism and the truth of the 
belief systems it opposes? Would not the opposite of the ruling ideology 
then be simply an alternative ideology, and on what rational grounds would 
we choose between them? We are sliding, in short, into the mire of historical 
relativism; but the only alternative to that would appear to be some form of 
positivism or scientific rationalism which repressed its own enabling histor- 
ical conditions, and so was ideological in all the worst ways outlined by The 
German Ideology. What if, in the most striking irony of all, Marxism itself has 
ended up as a prime example of the very forms of metaphysical or 
transcendental thought it set out to discredit, trusting to a scientific ration- 
alism which floated disinterestedly above history? 


Fro m L u kAcs to 
Grams c i 

To THINK of Marxism as the scientific analysis of social formations, and to 
think of it as ideas in active struggle, will tend to yield two quite different 
epistemologies. In the former case, consciousness is essentially contempla- 
tive, seeking to 'match' or 'correspond to' its object in the greatest possible 
accuracy of cognition In the latter case, consciousness is much more 
obviously part of social reality, a dynamic force in its potential transforma- 
tion. And if this is so, then to a thinker like Georg Lukacs it would not seem 
entirely appropriate to speak of whether such thought 'reflects' or 'fits' the 
history with which it is inseparably bound up. 

If consciousness is grasped in this way as a transformative force at one 
with the reality it seeks to change, then there would seem to be no 'space' 
between it and that reality in which false consciousness might germinate. 
Ideas cannot be 'untrue' to their object if they are actually part of it. In the 
terms of the philosopher JX. Austin, we can speak of a 'constarive' utterance; 
one which aims to describe the world, as either true or false; but it would not 
make sense to speak of a 'performative' statement as either correctly or 
incorrectly 'reflecting' reality. I am not describing anything when I promise to 
take you to the theatre, or curse you for spilling ink on my shirt. If I 
ceremonially name a ship, or stand with you before a clergyman and say 'I 
do', these are material events in reality, acts as efficacious as ironing my 
socks, not 'pictures' of some state of affairs which could be said to be 
accurate or mistaken. 



Does this mean, then, that the model of consciousness as cognitive (or 
miscognitive) should be ousted by an image of consciousness as performative 7 . 
Not exactly, for it is clear that this opposition can be to some degree 
deconstructed. There is no point in my promising to take you to the theatre 
if the theatre in question was closed down for gross obscenity last week and I 
am unaware of the fact. My act of cursing is empty if what I thought was an 
ink stain on my shirt is just part of the floral design. All 'performative' acts 
involve cognition of some kind, implicate some sense of how the world 
actually is; it is futile for a political group to hone its ideas in the struggle 
with some oppressive power if the power in question collapsed three years 
ago and they simply have not noticed. 

In his great work History and Class Consciousness (1922), the Hungarian 
Marxist Georg Lukacs takes full account of this point. 'It is true', Lukacs 
writes there, 'that reality is the criterion for the correctness of thought. But 
reality is not, it becomes - and to become the participation of thought is 
needed.' 1 Thought, we might say, is at once cognitive and creative: in the act 
of understanding its real conditions, an oppressed group or class has begun 
in that very moment to fashion the forms of consciousness which will 
contribute to changing them. And this is why no simple 'reflection' model of 
consciousness will really do. Thought and existence', Lukacs writes, 'are not 
identical in the sense that they "correspond" to each other, or "reflect" each 
other, that they "run parallel" to each other or "coincide" with each other (all 
expressions that conceal a rigid duality). Their identity is that they are 
aspects of one and the same real historical and dialectical process.' 2 The 
cognition of the revolutionary proletariat, for Lukacs, is part of the situation 
it cognizes, and alters that situation at a stroke. If this logic is pressed to an 
extreme, then it would seem that we never simply know some 'thing', since 
our act of knowing it has already transformed it into something else. The 
model tacitly underlying this doctrine is that of se^"-knowIedge; for to know 
myself is no longer to be the self that I was a moment before I knew it. It 
would seem, in any case, that this whole conception of consciousness as 
essentially active, practical and dynamic, which Lukacs owes to the work of 
Hegel, will force us to revise any too simplistic notion of false consciousness 
as some lag, gap or disjunction between the way things are and the way we 
know them. 

Lukacs takes over from aspects of the Second International the positive, 
non-pejorative sense of the word ideology, writing unembarrassedly for 
Marxism as 'the ideological expression of the proletariat'; and this is at least 


From Lukacs to Gramsci 

one reason why the widespread view that ideology for him is synonymous 
with false consciousness is simply mistaken. But he retains at the same time 
the whole conceptual apparatus of Marx's critique of commodity fetishism, 
and thus keeps alive a more critical sense of the term. The 'other' or opposite 
of ideology in this negative sense, however, is no longer primarily 'Marxist 
science' but the concept of totality; and one of the functions of this concept 
in his work is to allow him to ditch the idea of some disinterested social 
science without thereby falling prey to historical relativism. All forms of 
class consciousness are ideological; but some, so to speak, are more ideo- 
logical than others. What is specifically ideological about the bourgeoisie is 
its inability to grasp the structure of the social formation as a whole, on 
account of the dire effects of reificarion. Reification fragments and dislocates 
our social experience, so that under its influence we forget that society is a 
collective process and come see it instead merely as this or that isolated 
object or institution. As Lukacs's contemporary Karl Korsch argues, ideology 
is essentially a form of synecdoche, the figure of speech in which we take the 
part for the whole. What is peculiar to proletarian consciousness, in its 
fullest political development, is its capacity to 'totalize' the social order, for 
without such knowledge the working class will never be able to understand 
and transform its own conditions. A true recognition of its situation will be, 
inseparably, an insight into the social whole within which it is oppressively 
positioned; so that the moments in which the proletariat comes to self-* 
consciousness, and knows the capitalist system for what it is, are in effect 

Science, truth or theory, in other words, are no longer to be strictly 
counterposed to ideology, on the contrary, they are just 'expressions' of a 
particular class ideology, the revolutionary world view of the working class. 
Truth is just bourgeois society coming to consciousness of itself as a whole, 
and the 'place' where this momentous event occurs is in the self-awareness 
of the proletariat. Since the proletariat is the prototypical commodity, forced 
to sell its labour power in order to survive, it can be seen as the 'essence' of a 
social order based on commodity fetishism; and the self-consciousness of the 
proletariat is therefore, as it were, the commodity form coming to an 
awareness of itself, and in that act transcending itself. 

In coming to write History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs found himself 
faced with a kind of Hobson's choice or impossible opposition. On the one 
hand, there was the positivist fantasy {inherited from the Second Interna- 
tional) of a Marxist science which appeared to repress its own historical 


loots; on the other hand, there was the spectre of historical relativism. Either 
knowledge was sublimely external to the history it sought to know, or it was 
just a matter of this or that specific brand of historical consciousness, with 
no more firm grounding than that. Lukacs's way of circumventing this 
dilemma is by introducing the category of self-reflection. There are certain 
forms of knowledge - notably, the «/f-knowledge of an exploited class - 
which while thoroughly historical are nevertheless able to lay bare the limits 
of other ideologies, and so to figure as an emancipatory force. Truth, in 
Lukacs's 'historicist' perspective, 3 is always relative to a particular historical 
situation, never a metaphysical affair beyond history altogether; but the 
proletariat, uniquely, is so historically positioned as to be able in principle to 
unlock the secret of capitalism as a whole. There is thus no longer any need 
to remain trapped within the sterile antithesis of ideology as false or partial 
consciousness on the one hand, and science as some absolute, unhistorical 
mode of knowledge on the other. For not all class consciousness is false 
consciousness, and science is simply an expression or encodement of 'true' 
class consciousness. 

Lukacs's own way of phrasing this argument is unlikely to win much 
unqualified allegiance today. The proletariat, he claims, is a potentially 
'universal' class, since it bears with it the potential emancipation of all 
humanity. Its consciousness is thus in principle universal; but a universal 
subjectivity is in effect identical with objectivity. So what the working class 
knows, from its own partial historical perspective, must be objectively true. 
One does not need to be persuaded by this rather grandly Hegelian language 
to rescue the important insight buried within it. Lukacs sees quite rightly 
that the contrast between merely partial ideological standpoints on the one 
hand, and some dispassionate views of the social totality on the other, is 
radically misleading. For what this opposition fails to take into account is the 
situation of oppressed groups and classes, who need to get some view of the 
social system as a whole, and of their own place within it, simply to be able 
to realize their own partial, particular interests. If women are to emancipate 
themselves, they need to have an interest in understanding something of the 
general structures of patriarchy. Such understanding is by no means innocent 
or disinterested; on the contrary, it is in the service of pressing political 
interests. But without, as it were, passing over at some point from the 
particular to the general, those interests are likely to founder. A colonial 
people, simply to survive, may find itself 'forced' to enquire into the global 
structures of imperialism, as their imperialist rulers need not do. Those who 


From Lukdcs to Gramsei 

today fashionably disown the need for a 'global' or 'total' perspective may be 
privileged enough to dispense with it. It is where such a totality bears 
urgently in on one's own immediate social conditions that the intersection 
between pan and whole is most significantly established. Lukacs's point is 
that certain groups and classes need to inscribe their own condition within a 
wider context if they are to change that condition; and in doing so they will 
find themselves challenging the consciousness of those who have an interest 
in blocking this emancipatory knowledge. It is in this sense that the bugbear 
of relativism is irrelevant: for to claim that all knowledge springs from a 
specific social standpoint is not to imply that any old social standpoint 
is as valuable for these purposes as any other. If what one is looking for 
is some understanding of the workings of imperialism as a whole, then 
one would be singularly ill-advised to consult the Governor General or the 
Daily Telegraph's Africa correspondent, who will almost certainly deny its 

There is, however, a logical problem with Lukacs's notion of some 'true' 
class consciousness. For if the working class is the potential bearer of such 
consciousness, from what viewpoint is this judgement made? It cannot be 
made from the viewpoint of the (ideal) proletariat itself, since this simply 
begs the question; but if only that viewpoint is true, then it cannot be made 
from some standpoint external to it either. As Bhikhu Parekh points out, to 
claim that only the proletarian perspective allows one to grasp the truth of 
society as a whole already assumes that one knows what that truth is. 4 It 
would seem that truth is either wholly internal to the consciousness of the 
working class, in which case it cannot be assessed as truth and the claim 
becomes simply dogmatic; or one is caught in the impossible paradox of 
judging the truth from outside the truth itself, in which case the claim that 
this form of consciousness is true simply undercuts itself. 

If the proletariat for Lukacs is in principle the bearer of a knowledge of 
the social whole, it figures as the direct antithesis of a bourgeois class sunk in 
the mire of immediacy, unable to totalize its own situation. It is a traditional 
Marxist case that what forestalls such knowledge in the case of the middle 
class is its atomized social and economic conditions: each individual 
capitalist pursues his own interest, with little or no sense of how all of these 
isolated interests combine into a total system. Lukacs, however, places 
emphasis rather on the phenomenon of reification - a concept he derives 
from Marx's doctrine of commodity fetishism, but to which he lends a 
greatly extended meaning. Splicing together Marx's economic analysis and 



Max Weber's theory of rationalization, he argues in History and Class 
Consciousness that in capitalist society the commodity form permeates every 
aspect of social life, taking the shape of a pervasive mechanization, quanti- 
fication and dehumanization of human experience. The 'wholeness' of 
society is broken up into so many discrete, specialized, technical operations, 
each of which comes to assume a semi-autonomous life of its own and to 
dominate human existence as a quasi-natural force. Purely formal tech- 
niques of calculability suffuse every region of society, from factory work to 
political bureaucracy, journalism to the judiciary; and the natural sciences 
themselves are simply one more instance of reified thought. Overwhelmed 
by an opaque world of autonomous objects and institutions, the human 
subject is rapidly reduced to an inert, contemplative being, incapable of 
recognizing any longer in these petrified products its own creative practice. 
The moment of revolutionary recognition arrives when the working class 
acknowledges this alienated world as its own confiscated creation, 
reclaiming it through political praxis. In the terms of the Hegelian philo- 
sophy which underlies Lukacs's thought, this would signal the reunification 
of subject and object, torn grievously asunder by the effects of reificarion. In 
knowing itself for what it is, the proletariat becomes both subject and object 
of history. Indeed Lukacs occasionally seems to imply that this act of self- 
consciousness is a revolutionary practice all in itself. 

What Lukacs has in effect done here is to replace Hegel's Absolute Idea - 
itself the identical subject-object of history - with the proletariat. 5 Or at 
least, to qualify the point, with the kind of politically desirable consciousness 
which the proletariat could in principle achieve - what he calls 'ascribed' or 
'imputed' consciousness. And if Lukacs is Hegelian enough in this, he is 
equally so in his trust that the truth lies in the whole. For the Hegel of The 
Phenomenology of Spirit, immediate experience is itself a kind of false or 
partial consciousness; it will yield up its truth only when it is dialectically 
mediated, when its latent manifold relations with the whole have been 
patiently uncovered. One might say, then, that on this view our routine 
consciousness is itself inherently 'ideological', simply by virtue of its 
partiality. It is not that the statements we make in this situation are 
necessarily false; it is rather that they are true only in some superficial, 
empirical way, for they are judgements about isolated objects which have 
not yet been incorporated into their full context. We can think back here to 
the assertion: 'Prince Charles is a thoughtful, conscientious fellow', which 
may be true enough as far as it goes, but which isolates the object known as 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

Prince Charles from the whole context of the institution of royalty. For 
Hegel, it is only by the operations of dialectical reason that such static, 
discrete phenomena can be reconstituted as a dynamic, developing whole. 
As to this extent one might say that a certain kind of false consciousness is 
for Hegel our 'natural' condition, endemic to our immediate experience. 

For Lukacs, by contrast, such partial seeing springs from specific histor- 
ical causes - the process of capitalist reification - but is to be overcome in 
much the same way, by the workings of a 'totalizing' or dialectical reason. 
Bourgeois science, logic and philosophy are his equivalent of Hegel's 
routine, unredeemed mode of knowledge, breaking down what is in fact a 
complex, evolving totality into artificially autonomous parts. Ideology for 
Lukacs is thus not exactly a discourse untrue to the way things are, but one 
true to them only in a limited, superficial way, ignorant of their deeper 
tendencies and connections. And this is another sense in which, contrary to 
widespread opinion, ideology is not in his view false consciousness in the 
sense of simple error or illusion. 

To seize history as totality is to grasp it in its dynamic, contradictory 
development, of which the potential realization of human powers is a vital 
part. To this extent, a particular kind of cognition - knowing the whole - is 
for both Hegel and Lukacs a certain kind of moral and political norm. The 
dialectical method thus reunites not only subject and object, but also 'fact' 
and Value', which bourgeois thought has ripped asunder. To understand the 
world in a particular way becomes inseparable from acting to promote the 
free, full unfolding of human creative powers. We are not left high and dry, 
as we are in positivist or empiricist thought, with a dispassionate, value-free 
knowledge on the one hand, and an arbitrary set of subjective values on the 
other. On the contrary, the act of knowledge is itself both 'fact' and Value', 
an accurate cognition indispensable for political emancipation. As Leszek 
Kolakowski puts the point; 'In this particular case [i.e. that of emancipatory 
knowledge] the understanding and transformation of reality are not two 
separate processes, but one and the same phenomenon.' 6 

Lukacs's writings on class consciousness rank among the richest, most 
original documents of twentieth-century Marxism. They are, nevertheless, 
subject to a number of damaging criticisms. It could be argued, for example, 
that his theory of ideology tends towards an unholy mixture of economism 
and idealism. Economism, because he uncritically adopts the later Marx's 
implication that the commodity form is somehow the secret essence of all 
ideological consciousness in bourgeois society. Reification figures for Lukacs 



not only as a central feature of the capitalist economy, but as 'the central 
structural problem of capitalist society in all aspects'. 7 A kind of essentialism 
of ideology is consequently at work here, homogenizing what are in fact 
very different discourses, structures and effects. At its worst, this model tends 
to reduce bourgeois society to a set of neatly layered 'expressions' of reifica- 
tion, each of its levels (economic, political, juridical, philosophical) 
obediently miming and reflecting the others. Moreover, as Theodor Adorno 
was later to suggest, this single-minded insistence upon reification as the 
clue to all crimes is itself covertly idealist: in Lukacs's texts, it tends to 
displace such more fundamental concepts as economic exploitation. Much 
the same might be said of his use of the Hegelian category of totality, which 
sometimes pushes to one side an attention to modes of production, contra- 
dictions between the forces and relations of production and the like. Is 
Marxism, like Matthew Arnold's ideal poetic vision, just a matter of seeing 
reality steadily and seeing it whole? To parody Lukacs's case a little: is 
revolution simply a question of making connections'? And is not the social 
totality, for Marxism if not for Hegel, 'skewed' and asymmetrical, twisted 
out of true by the preponderance within it of economic determinants? 
Properly cautious of Vulgar' Marxist versions of 'base' and 'superstructure', 
Lukacs wishes to displace attention from this brand of mechanistic deter- 
minism to the idea of the social whole; but this social whole then risks 
becoming a purely 'circular' one, in which each 'level' is granted equal 
effectivity with each of the others. 

Commodity fetishism, for Lukacs as much as for Marx, is an objective 
material structure of capitalism, not just a state of mind. But in History and 
Class Consciousness another, residually idealist model of ideology is also 
confusingly at work, which would seem to locate the 'essence' of bourgeois 
society in the collective subjectivity of the bourgeois class itself. 'For a class 
to be ripe for hegemony', Lukacs writes, 'means that its interests and 
consciousness enable it to organise the whole of society in accordance with 
those interests.' 8 What is it, then, which provides the ideological lynchpin of 
the bourgeois order? Is it the 'objective' system of commodity fetishism, 
which presumably imprints itself on all classes alike, or the 'subjective' 
strength of the dominant class's consciousness? Gareth Stedman Jones has 
argued that, as far as the latter view is concerned, it is as though ideology for 
Lukacs takes grip through 'the saturation of the social totality by the 
ideological essence of a pure class subject' 9 What this overlooks, as Stedman 
Jones goes on to point out, is that ideologies, far from being the 'subjective 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

product of the "will to power" of different classes', are 'objective systems 
determined by the whole field of social struggle between contending classes'. 
For Lukacs, as for 'historicist' Marxism in general, it would sometimes 
appear as though each social class has its own peculiar, corporate 'world 
view', one direcdy expressive of its material conditions of existence; and 
ideological dominance then consists in one of these world views imposing 
its stamp on the social formation as a whole. It is not only that this version of 
ideological power is hard to square with the more structural and objective 
doctrine of commodity fetishism; it is also that it drastically simplifies the 
true unevenness and complexity of the ideological 'field'. For as Nicos 
Poulantzas has argued, ideology, like social class itself, is an inherendy 
relational phenomenon: it expresses less the way a class lives its conditions of 
existence, than the way it lives them in relation to the lived experience of other 
classes} Just as there can be no bourgeois class without a proletariat, or vice 
versa, so the typical ideology of each of these classes is constituted to the root 
by the ideology of its antagonist. Ruling ideologies, as we have argued 
earlier, must engage effectively with the lived experience of subordinate 
classes; and the way in which those subaltern classes live their world will be 
typically shaped and influenced by the dominant ideologies. Historicist 
Marxism, in short, presumes too organic and internal a relation between a 
'class subject' and its 'world view'. There are social classes such as the petty 
bourgeoisie - 'contradiction incarnate', as Marx dubbed them - whose 
ideology is typically compounded of elements drawn from the classes both 
above and below them; and there are vital ideological themes such as nation- 
alism which do not 'belong' to any particular social class, but which rather 
provide a bone of contention between them." Social classes do not manifest 
ideologies in the way that individuals display a particular style of walking: 
ideology is, rather, a complex, conflictive field of meaning, in which some 
themes will be closely tied to the experience of particular classes, while 
others will be more 'free floating', tugged now this way and now that in the 
struggle between contending powers. Ideology is a realm of contestation and 
negotiation, in which there is a constant busy traffic: meanings and values 
are stolen, transformed, appropriated across the frontiers of different classes 
and groups, surrendered, repossessed, reinflected. A dominant class may 'live 
its experience' in part through the ideology of a previous dominant one: 
think of the aristocratic colouring of the English haute bourgeosie. Or it may 
fashion its ideology partly in terms of the beliefs of a subordinated class - as 
in the case of fascism, where a ruling sector of finance capitalism takes over 



for its own purposes the prejudices and anxieties of the lower middle class. 
There is no neat, one-to-one correspondence between classes and ideologies, 
as is evident in the case of revolutionary socialism. Any revolutionary 
ideology, to be politically effective, would have to be a good deal more than 
Lukacs's 'pure' proletarian consciousness: unless it lent some provisional 
coherence to a rich array of oppositional forces, it would have scant chance 
of success. 

The idea of social classes as 'subjects', central to Lukacs's work, has also 
been contested. A class is not just some kind of collectivized individual, 
equipped with the sorts of attributes ascribed by humanist thought to the 
individual person: consciousness, unity, autonomy, self-determination and 
so on. Classes are certainly for Marxism historical agents; but they are 
structural, material formations as well as 'intersubjective' entities, and the 
problem is how to think these two aspects of them together. We have seen 
already that ruling classes are generally complex, internally conflictive 
'blocs', rather than homogeneous bodies; and the same applies to their 
political antagonists. A 'class-ideology', then, is likely to display much the 
same kind of unevenness and contradictoriness. 

The harshest criticism of Lukacs's theory of ideology would be that, in a 
series of progressive conflations, he collapses Marxist theory into proletarian 
ideology, ideology into the expression of some 'pure' class subject; and this 
class subject to the essence of the social formation. But this case demands 
significant qualification. Lukacs is not at all blind to the ways in which the 
consciousness of the working class is 'contaminated' by that of its rulers, and 
would seem to ascribe no organic Vorld view' to it in non-revolutionary 
conditions. Indeed if the proletariat in its 'normal' state is little more than 
the commodity incarnate, it is hard to see how it can be a subject at all - and 
therefore hard to see how exactly it can make the transition to becoming a 
'class for itself. But this process of 'contamination' does not appear to work 
the other way round, in the sense that the dominant ideology seems in no way 
significantly shaped by a dialogue with its subordinates. 

We have seen already that there are really two discrepant theories of 
ideology at work in History and Class Consciousness - the one deriving from 
commodity fetishism, the other from a historicist view of ideology as the 
world view of a class subject. As far as the proletariat is concerned, these two 
conceptions would seem to correspond respectively to its 'normal' and 
revolutionary states of being. In non-revolutionary conditions, working- 
class consciousness is passively subject to the effects of reification; we are 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

given no clue as to how this situation is actively constituted by proletarian 
ideology, or of how it interacts with less obediently submissive aspects of 
that experience. How does the worker constitute herself as a subject on the 
basis of her objectification? But when the class shifts - mysteriously - to 
becoming a revolutionary subject, a historicist problematic takes over, and 
what was true of their rulers - that they 'saturated' the whole social forma- 
tion with their own ideological conceptions - can now become true of them 
too. What is said of these rulers, however, is inconsistent: for this active 
notion of ideology in their case is at odds with the view that they, too, are 
simply victims of the structure of commodity fetishism. How can the 
middle class govern by virtue of its unique, unified world view when it is 
simply subjected along with other classes to the structure of reification? Is 
the dominant ideology a matter of the bourgeoisie, or of bourgeois society? 

It can be claimed that History and Class Consciousness is marred by a 
typically idealist overestimation of 'consciousness' itself. 'Only the 
consciousness of the proletariat', Lukacs writes, 'can point to the way that 
leads out of the impasse of capitalism'; 12 and while this is orthodox enough 
in one sense, since an unconscious proletariat is hardly likely to do the trick, 
its emphasis is nonetheless revealing. For it is not in the first place the 
consciousness of the working class, actual or potential, which leads Marxism to 
select it as the prime agency of revolutionary change. If the working class 
figures as such an agent, it is for structural, material reasons - the fact that it 
is the only body so located within the productive process of capitalism, so 
trained and organized by that process and utterly indispensable to it, as to be 
capable of taking it over. In this sense it is capitalism, not Marxism, which 
'selects' the instruments of revolutionary overthrow, patiently nurturing its 
own potential gravedigger. When Lukacs observes that the strength of a 
social formation is always in the last resort a 'spiritual' one, or when he 
writes that 'the fate of the revolution . . . will depend on the ideological 
maturity of the proletariat, i.e. on its class consciousness', 13 he is arguably in 
danger of displacing these material issues into questions of pure conscious- 
ness - and a consciousness which, as Gareth Stedman Jones has pointed out, 
remains curiously disembodied and ethereal, a matter of 'ideas' rather than 
practices or institutions. 

If Lukacs is residually idealist in the high priority he assigns to conscious- 
ness, so is he also in his Romantic hostility to science, logic and technology.' 4 
Formal and analytic discourses are simply modes of bourgeois reification, 
just as all forms of mechanization and rationalization would seem inherently 



alienating. The progressive, emancipatory side of these processes in the 
history of capitalism is merely ignored, in an elegaic nostalgia typical of 
Romantic conservative thought. Lukacs does not wish to deny that Marxism 
is a science; but this science is the 'ideological expression of the proletariat', 
not some set of timeless analytic propositions. This certainly offers a 
powerful challenge to the 'scientism' of the Second International - the belief 
that historical materialism is a purely objective knowledge of the immanent 
laws of historical development. But to react against such metaphysical 
fantasies by reducing Marxist theory to revolutionary ideology is hardly more 
adequate. Are the complex equations of Capital no more than a theoretical 
'expression' of socialist consciousness? Is not that consciousness partly 
constituted by such theoretical labour? And if only proletarian self-conscious- 
ness will deliver us the truth, how do we come to accept this truth as true in 
the first place, if not by a certain theoretical understanding which must be 
relatively independent of it? 

I have already argued that it is mistaken to see Lukacs as equating 
ideology with false consciousness tout court Working-class socialist ideology 
is not of course in his view false; and even bourgeois ideology is illusory only 
in a complex sense of the term. Indeed we might claim that whereas for the 
early Marx and Engels, ideology is thought false to the true situation, for 
Lukacs it is thought true to a false situation. Bourgeois ideas do indeed 
accurately mirror the state of things in bourgeois society, but it is this very 
state of affairs which is somehow twisted out of true. Such consciousness is 
faithful to the reified nature of the capitalist social order, and often enough 
makes true claims about this condition; it is 'false' in so far as it cannot 
penetrate this world of frozen appearances to lay bare the totality of 
tendencies and connections which underlies it. In the breathtaking central 
section of History and Class Consciousness, 'Reiflcation and the Consciousness 
of the Proletariat', Lukacs boldly rewrites the whole of post-Kantian 
philosophy as a secret history of the commodity form, of the schism between 
empty subjects and petrified objects; and in this sense such thought is 
accurate to the dominant social categories of capitalist society, structured by 
them to its roots. Bourgeois ideology is false less because it distorts, inverts 
or denies the material world, than because it is unable to press beyond 
certain limits structural to bourgeois society as such. As Lukacs writes: Thus 
the barrier which converts the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie into 
"false" consciousness is objective; it is the class situation itself. It is the 
objective result of the economic set-up, and is neither arbitrary, subjective 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

nor psychological.' 15 We have here, then, yet another definition of ideology, 
as 'structurally constrained thought', which runs back at least as far as Marx's 
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In a discussion in that text of what 
makes certain French politicians representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, 
Marx comments that it is 'the fact that in their minds they do not get 
beyond the limits which the [petty bourgeoisie] does not get beyond in life'. 
False consciousness is thus a kind of thought which finds itself baffled and 
thwarted by certain barriers in society rather than in the mind; and only by 
transforming society itself could it therefore be dissolved. 

One can put this point in another way. There are certain kinds of error 
which result simply from lapses of intelligence or information, and which 
can be resolved by a further refinement of thought. But when we keep 
running up against a limit to our conceptions which stubbornly refuses to 
give way, then this obstruction may be symptomatic of some 'limit' built 
into our social life. In this situation, no amount of intelligence or ingenuity, 
no mere 'evolution of ideas', will serve to get us further forward, for what is 
awry here is the whole cast and frame of our consciousness, conditioned as it 
is by certain material constraints. Our social practices pose the obstacle to 
the very ideas which seek to explain them; and if we want to advance those 
ideas, we will have to change our forms of life. It is precisely this which Marx 
argues of the bourgeois political economists, whose searching theoretical 
enquiries find themselves continually rebuffed by problems which mark the 
inscription on the interior of their discourse of the social conditions 
surrounding it. 

It is thus that Lukacs can write of bourgeois ideology as 'something 
which is subjectively justified in the social and historical situation, as some- 
thing which can and should be understood, i.e. as "right". At the same time, 
objectively, it by-passes the essence of the evolution of society and fails to 
pinpoint and express it adequately." 6 Ideology is now a long way from being 
some mere illusion; and the same is true if one reverses these terms 'objec- 
tive' and 'subjective'. For one might equally claim, so Lukacs remarks, that 
bourgeois ideology fails 'subjectively' to achieve its self-appointed goals 
(freedom, justice and so on), but exactly in so failing helps to further certain 
objective aims of which it is ignorant. By which he means, presumably, 
helping to promote the historical conditions which will finally bring 
socialism to power. Such class consciousness involves an un consciousness of 
one's true social conditions and is thus a kind of self-deception; but whereas 
Engels, as we have seen, tended to dismiss the conscious motivation involved 



here as sheer illusion, Lukacs is prepared to accord it a certain limited truth. 
'Despite all its objective falseness', he writes, 'the self-deceiving "false" 
consciousness that we find in the bourgeoisie is at least in accord with its 
class situation.'' 17 Bourgeois ideology may be false from the standpoint of 
some putative social totality, but this does not mean that it is false to the 
situation as it currently is. 

This way of putting the point may perhaps help to make some sense of 
the otherwise puzzling notion of ideology as thought true to a false situa- 
tion. For what seems spurious about this formulation is the very idea that a 
situation might be said to be false. Statements about deep-sea diving may be 
true or false, but not deep-sea diving itself. As a Marxist humanist, however, 
Lukacs himself has a kind of answer to this problem. A 'false' situation for 
him is one in which the human 'essence' - the full potential of those powers 
which humanity has historically developed - is being unnecessarily blocked 
and estranged; and such judgements are thus always made from the stand- 
point of some possible and desirable future. A false situation can be 
identified only subjunctively or retrospectively, from the vantage-point of 
what might be possible were these thwarting, alienating forces to be 
abolished. But this does not mean taking one's stand in the empty space of 
some speculative future, in the manner of 'bad' utopianism; for in Lukacs's 
view, and indeed in the view of Marxism in general, the outline of that 
desirable future can already be detected in certain potentialities stirring 
within the present. The present is thus not identical with itself: there is that 
within it which points beyond it, as indeed the shape of every historical 
present is structured by its anticipation of a possible future. 

If the critique of ideology sets out to examine the social foundations of 
thought, then it must logically be able to give some account of its own 
historical origins. What was the material history which gave rise to the 
notion of ideology itself? Can the study of ideology round upon its own 
conditions of possibility? 

The concept of ideology, it can be argued, arose at the historical point 
where systems of ideas first became aware of their own partiality, and this 
came about when those ideas were forced to encounter alien or alternative 
forms of discourse. It was with the rise of bourgeois society, above all, that 
the scene was set for this occurrence. For it is characteristic of that society, as 
Marx noted, that everything about it, including its forms of consciousness, is 
in a state of ceaseless flux, in contrast to some more tradition-bound social 


From Lukdcs to Gramsct 

order. Capitalism survives only by a restless development of the productive 
forces; and in this agitated social condition new ideas tumble upon one 
another's heels as dizzyingly as do fashions in commodities. The entrenched 
authority of any single world view is accordingly undermined by the very 
nature of capitalism itself Moreover, such a social order breeds plurality and 
fragmentation as surely as it generates social deprivation, transgressing time- 
hallowed boundaries between diverse forms of life and pitching them 
together in a melee of idioms, ethnic origins, life-styles, national cultures. It is 
exactly this which the Soviet critic Mikhail Bakhtin means by 'polyphony'. 
Within this atomized space, marked by a proliferating division of in- 
tellectual labour, a variety of creeds, doctrines and modes of perception 
jostle for authority, and this thought should give pause to those postmodern 
theorists for whom difference, plurality and heterogeneity are unequivocally 
'progressive'. Within this turmoil of competing creeds, any particular belief 
system will find itself wedged cheek by jowl with unwelcome competitors; 
and its own frontiers will thus be thrown into sharp relief. The stage is then 
set for the growth of philosophical scepticism and relativism - for the 
conviction that, within the unseemly hubbub of the intellectual market- 
place, no single way of thinking can claim more validity than any other. If all 
thought is partial and partisan, then all thought is 'ideological'. 

In a striking paradox, then, the very dynamism and mutability of the 
capitalist system threaten to cut the authoritative ground from under its 
own feet; and this is perhaps most obvious in the phenomenon of imperial- 
ism. Imperialism needs to assert the absolute truth of its own values at 
exactly the point where those values are confronting alien cultures; and this 
can prove a notably disorientating experience. It is hard to remain convinced 
that your own way of doing things is the only possible one when you are 
busy trying to subjugate another society which conducts its affairs in a 
radically different but apparently effective way. The fiction of Joseph 
Conrad turns on this disabling contradiction. In this as in other ways, then, 
the historical emergence of the concept of ideology testifies to a corrosive 
anxiety - to the embarrassed awareness that your own truths only strike you 
as plausible because of where you happen to be standing at the time. 

The modern bourgeoisie is accordingly caught in something of a cleft 
stick. Unable to retreat to old-style metaphysical certainties, it is equally 
loath to embrace a full-blooded scepticism which would simply subvert the 
legitimacy of its power. One early twentieth-century attempt to negotiate 
this dilemma is Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia (1929), written under 



the influence of Lukacs's historicism in the political tumult of the Weimar 
republic. Mannheim sees well enough that with the rise of middle-class 
society the old monological world view of the traditional order has dis- 
appeared forever. An authoritarian priesdy and political caste, which once 
confidently monopolised knowledge, has now yielded ground to a 'free' 
intelligentsia, caught on the hop between conflicting theoretical perspec- 
tives. The aim of a 'sociology of knowledge' will thus be to spurn all 
transcendental truths and examine the social determinants of particular 
belief systems, while guarding at the same time against the disabling 
relativism which would level all these beliefs to one. The problem, as 
Mannheim is uneasily aware, is that any criticism of another's views as ideo- 
logical is always susceptible to a swift tu quoque. In pulling the rug out from 
beneath one's intellectual antagonist, one is always in danger of pulling it 
out from beneath oneself. 

Against such relativism, Mannheim speaks up for what he calls 'relation- 
ism', meaning the location of ideas within the social system which gives birth 
to them. Such an enquiry into the social basis of thought, he considers, need 
not run counter to the goal of objectivity; for though ideas are internally 
shaped by their social origins, their truth value is not reducible to them. The 
inevitable one-sidedness of any particular standpoint can be corrected by 
synthesizing it with its rivals, thus building up a provisional, dynamic 
totality of thought At the same time, by a process of self-monitoring, we can 
come to appreciate the limits of our own perspective, and so attain a 
restricted sort of objectivity. Mannheim thus emerges as the Matthew 
Arnold of Weimar Germany, concerned to see life steadily and see it whole. 
Blinkered ideological viewpoints will be patiendy subsumed into some 
greater totality by those dispassionate enough to do so - which is to say, by 
'free' intellectuals with a remarkable resemblance to Karl Mannheim. The 
only problem with this approach is that it merely pushes the question of 
relativism back a stage; for we can always ask about the tendentious 
standpoint from which this synthesis is actually launched. Isn't the interest in 
totality just another interest? 

Such a sociology of knowledge is for Mannheim a welcome alternative to 
the older style of ideology critique. Such critique, in his view, is essentially a 
matter of unmasking one's antagonist's notions, exposing them as lies, 
deceptions or illusions fuelled by conscious or unconscious social motiva- 
tions. Ideology critique, in short, is here reduced to what Paul Ricoeur would 
call a 'hermeneutic of suspicion', and is plainly inadequate for the subder, 


From Lukacs to Gramsci 

more ambitious task of eliciting the whole 'mental structure' which 
underlies a group's prejudices and beliefs. Ideology pertains only to specific 
deceptive assertions, whose roots, so Mannheim at one point argues, may be 
traced to the psychology of particular individuals. That this is something of a 
straw target of ideology is surely clean Mannheim pays scant regard to such 
theories as the fetishism of commodities, where deception, far from 
springing from psychologistic sources, is seen as generated by an entire social 

The ideological function of the 'sociology of knowledge' is in fact to 
defuse the whole Marxist conception of ideology, replacing it with the less 
embattled, contentious conception of a *world view'. Mannheim, to be sure, 
does not believe that such world views can ever be non-evaluatively 
analysed; but the drift of his work is to downplay concepts of mystification, 
rationalization and the power-function of ideas in the name of some 
synoptic survey of the evolution of forms of historical consciousness. In a 
sense, then, this post-Marxist approach to ideology returns to a ^re-Marxist 
view of it, as simply 'socially determined thought'. And since this applies to 
any thought whatsoever, there is a danger of the concept of ideology 
cancelling all the way through. 

In so far as Mannheim does retain the concept of ideology, he does so in a 
singularly uniUuminating way. As a historicist, truth for Mannheim means 
ideas adequate to a particular stage of historical development; and ideology 
then signifies a body of beliefs incongruous with its epoch, out of sync with 
what the age demands. Conversely, 'utopia' denotes ideas ahead of their time 
and so similarly discrepant with social reality, but capable nonetheless of 
shattering the structures of the present and transgressing its frontiers. 
Ideology, in short, is antiquated belief, a set of obsolescent myths, norms and 
ideals unhinged from the real; Utopia is premature and unreal, but should be 
reserved as a term for those conceptual prefigurations which really do 
succeed in realizing a new social order. Ideology emerges in this light as a 
kind of failed Utopia, unable to enter upon material existence; and this 
definition of it then simply throws us back to the patently insufficient early 
Marxian notion of ideology as ineffectual otherworldiness. Mannheim 
would appear to lack all sense of ideologies as forms of consciousness often 
all too well adapted to current social requirements, productively entwined 
with historical reality, able to organize practical social activity in highly 
effective ways. In his denigration of utopia, which is similarly a 'distortion of 
reality', he is simply blinded to the ways in which what 'the age demands' 



may be precisely a thought which moves beyond it. Thought', he remarks, 
'should contain neither less nor more than the reality in whose medium it 
operates' 18 - an identification of the concept with its object which Theodor 
Adorno, ironically enough, will denounce as the very essence of ideological 

In the end, Mannheim either stretches the term ideology beyond all 
serviceable use, equating it with the social determination of any belief 
whatsoever, or unduly narrows it to specific acts of deception. He fails to 
grasp that ideology cannot be synonymous with partial or perspectival 
thinking - for of what thinking is this not true? If the concept is not to be 
entirely vacuous it must have rather more specific connotations of power- 
struggle and legitimation, structural dissemblance and mystification. What 
he does usefully suggest, however, is a third way between those who would 
hold that the truth or falsity of statements is sublimely untainted by their 
social genesis, and those who would abruptly reduce the former to the latter. 
| For Michel Foucault, it would seem that the truth value of a proposition is 
/ entirely a matter of its social function, a reflex of the power interests it 
promotes. As the linguists might say, what is enunciated is wholly collapsible 
to the conditions of the enunciation; what matters is not so much what is 
said, but who says it to whom for what purposes. What this overlooks is that, 
while enunciations are certainly not independent of their social conditions, a 
statement such as 'Eskimos are generally speaking just as good as anyone 
else' is true no matter who says it for what end; and one of the important 
features of a claim such as 'Men are superior to women' is that, what- 
ever power interests it may be promoting, it is also, as a matter of fact, 

Another thinker on whom the Lukacsian mantle descends is the 
Romanian-born sociologist Lucien Goldmann. Goldmann's method of 
'genetic structuralism' seeks to identify the 'mental structures' of a particular 
social group or class, especially as these are revealed in literature and 
philosophy. Everyday consciousness is a haphazard, amorphous affair; but 
certain exceptionally gifted members of a class - artists, for example - can 
rise above this mixed, uneven experience and express the class's interests in 
purer, more diagrammatic form. This 'ideal' structure Goldmann names a 
'world view' - a specific organization of mental categories which silently 
informs the art and thought of a social group, and which is the product of its 
collective consciousness. The Goldmannian world view is thus a version of 
Lukacs's 'imputed' consciousness: that style of thought at which a social class 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

would ideally arrive were ir ro grasp its real situation and articulate its true 

Goldmann enforces a distinction between this world view and mere 
ideology. The former is global in reach, and typifies a social class at the 
height of its powers, whereas the latter is a partial, distorting perspective 
characteristic of a class in decline. There is some warrant for this opposition, 
as we have seen, in a certain reading of Marx, who contrasts the genuine 
universality of an emergent revolutionary class with the deceptive rational- 
izations of its subsequent career. All the same, the distinction would seem 
somewhat shaky: is a world view non-ideological in the sense of being 
innocent of power? Is there no sense in which it strives to legitimate 
particular social interests? It is as though Goldmann wishes to safeguard the 
'purity' of the world view from the shame of the sheerly ideological; and one 
reason he needs to do so is because the totality of the world view, for him as 
for Lukacs, offers a vantage-point other than the now discredited 'science' 
from which specific ideologies may be assessed. This is not to claim that 
every world view is 'true'; for Goldmann, the Kantian vision is tragically 
constrained by the categories of bourgeois society. But it is true to actual 
historical conditions, and so to be contrasted with the mere speciousness of 
an ideology. World view is ideology purified, elevated, and largely purged of 
its negative elements. 

In his major work The Hidden God (1955), Goldmann examines the tragic 
world view of a sector of the seventeenth-century French bourgeoisie, 
demonstrating how the works of writers as apparently disparate as Racine 
and Pascal display an invariable 'deep' structure of categories expressive of 
the vain search for absolute value in a world now stripped of numinous 
meaning by scientific rationalism and empiricism. All of the elements of 
'historicist' Marxism are clearly in evidence here. Social classes are viewed 
not primarily as objective material structures but as 'collective subjects', 
furnished with what - ideally, at least - is a highly homogeneous conscious- 
ness. This conciousness stands in directly expressive relation to the class's 
social conditions; and works of art and philosophy are in turn expressive of 
this world view. There is no particular room in this model for 'non-class' 
forms of consciousness, and little room either for any serious complications, 
dislocations or contradictions between its various levels. The social forma- 
tion presents itself as an 'expressive totality', within which social conditions, 
class, world view and literary artefacts unproblematically reflect one 



In his later work Towards a Sociology of the Novel (1964), Goldmann turns 
from the concept of world view to the theory of reification. This 
methodological shift, he considers, reflects a real mutation from classical to 
advanced capitalism; for the later stages of the system, with their pervasive 
rationalizing and dehumanizing of existence, have now definitively blocked 
off the possibility of global totality at the level of consciousness. What this 
suggests is that the notion of world view, and the theory of commodity 
fetishism, cannot really coexist as accounts of ideology. If, as we have seen, 
they stand in uneasy interrelation in the work of Lukacs, they divide into 
chronologically successive phases of the history of capitalism in the writings 
of Goldmann. So the question which we raised in the case of Lukacs returns 
in the instance of his disciple: is the dominant ideology a matter of the 
ruling class somehow imposing its coherently organized consciousness upon 
society as a whole, or is it a matter of the material structures of the capitalist 
economy itself? 

The key category in the writing of Lukacs's Western Marxist colleague 
Antonio Gramsci is not ideology but hegemony; and it is worth pondering the 
distinction between these two terms. Gramsci normally uses the word 
*h 4 hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its 
rule from those it subjugates - though it is true that he occasionally uses the 
term to cover both consent and coercion together. There is thus an 
immediate difference from the concept of ideology, since it is clear that 
ideologies may be forcibly imposed. Think, for example, of the workings of 
racist ideology in South Africa. But hegemony is also a broader category 
than ideology: it includes ideology, but is not reducible to it A ruling group 
or class may secure consent to its power by ideological means; but it may 
also do so by, say, altering the tax system in ways favourable to groups whose 
support it needs, or creating a layer of relatively affluent, and thus somewhat 
politically quiescent, workers. Or hegemony may take political rather than 
economic forms: the parliamentary system in Western democracies is a 
crucial aspect of such power, since it fosters the illusion of self-government 
on the part of the populace. What uniquely distinguishes the political form 
of such societies is that the people are supposed to believe that they govern 
themselves, a belief which no slave of antiquity or medieval serf was 
expected to entertain. Indeed Perry Anderson goes so far as to describe the 
parliamentary system as 'the hub of the ideological apparatus of capitalism', 
to which such institutions as the media, churches and political parties play a 


From Lukacs to Gramsci 

critical but complementary role. It is for this reason, as Anderson points out, 
that Gramsci is mistaken when he locates hegemony in 'civil society' alone, 
rather than in the state, for the political form of the capitalist state is itself a 
vital organ of such power. 19 

Another powerful source of political hegemony is the supposed 
neutrality of the bourgeois state. This is not, in fact, simply an ideological 
illusion. In capitalist society, political power is indeed relatively autonomous 
of social and economic life, as opposed to the political set-up in pre- 
capitalist formations. In feudal regimes, for example, the nobility who 
economically exploit the peasantry also exercise certain political, cultural 
and juridical functions in their lives, so that the relation between economic 
and political power is here more visible. Under capitalism, economic life is 
not subject to such continuous political supervision: as Marx comments, it is 
the 'dull compulsion of the economic', the need simply to survive, which 
keeps men and women at work, divorced from any framework of political 
obligations, religious sanctions or customary responsibilities. It is as though 
in this form of life the economy comes to operate 'all by itself, and the 
political state can thus take something of a back seat, sustaining the general 
structures within which this economic activity is conducted. This is the real 
material basis of the belief that the bourgeois state is supremely dis- 
interested, holding the ring between contending social forces; and in this 
sense, once again, hegemony is built into its very nature. 

Hegemony, then, is not just some successful kind of ideology, but may be 
discriminated into its various ideological, cultural, political and economic 
aspects. Ideology refers specifically to the way power-struggles are fought 
out at the level of signification; and though such signification is involved in 
all hegemonic processes, it is not in all cases the dominantlevd by which rule 
is sustained. Singing the National Anthem comes as close to a 'purely' 
ideological activity as one could imagine; it would certainly seem to fulfil no 
other purpose, aside perhaps from annoying the neighbours. Religion, 
similarly, is probably the most purely ideological of the various institutions 
of civil society. But hegemony is also carried in cultural, political and 
economic forms - in non-discursive practices as well as in rhetorical 

With certain notable inconsistencies, Gramsci associates hegemony with 
the arena of 'civil society', by which he means the whole range of institutions 
intermediate between state and economy. Privately owned television 
stations, the family, the boy scout movement, the Methodist church, infant 



schools, the British Legion, the Sun newspaper all of these would count as 
hegemonic apparatuses, which bind individuals to the ruling power by 
consent rather than by coercion. Coercion, by contrast, is reserved to the 
state, which has a monopoly on 'legitimate' violence. (We should note, 
however, that the coercive institutions of a society - armies, law courts and 
the rest - must themselves win a general consent from the people if they are 
to operate effectively, so that the opposition between coercion and consent 
can be to some extent deconstructed.) In modern capitalist regimes, civil 
society has come to assume a formidable power, in contrast to the days when 
the Bolsheviks, living in a society poor in such institutions, could seize the 
reins of government by a frontal attack on the state itself. The concept of 
hegemony thus belongs with the question: How is the working class to take 
power in a social formation where the dominant power is subtly, pervasively 
diffused throughout habitual daily practices, intimately interwoven with 
'culture' itself, inscribed in the very texture of our experience from nursery 
school to funeral parlour? How do we combat a power which has become 
the 'common sense' of a whole social order, rather than one which is widely 
perceived as alien and oppressive? 

In modern society, then, it is not enough to occupy factories or confront 
the state. What must also be contested is the whole area of 'culture', defined 
in its broadest, most everyday sense. The power of the ruling class is spiritual 
as well as material; and any 'counterhegemony' must carry its political 
campaign into this hitherto neglected realm of values and customs, speech 
habits and ritual practices. Perhaps the shrewdest comment ever passed on 
this topic was Lenin's, in a speech to the Moscow conference of trade unions 
in 1918: 

The whole difficulty of the Russian revolution is that it was much easier 
for the Russian revolutionary working class to start than it is for the West 
European classes, but it is much more difficult for us to continue. It is 
more difficult to start a revolution in West European countries because 
there the revolutionary proletariat is opposed by the higher thinking 
that comes with culture, while the working class is in a state of cultural 
slavery. 20 

What Lenin means is that the relative lack of 'culture' in Tsarist Russia, in 
the sense of a dense network of 'civil' institutions, was a key factor in making 
the revolution possible, since the ruling class could not secure its hegemony 


From Luhdcs to Gramsci 

by these means. But the very same absence of culture, in the sense of a 
literate, well-educated population, developed technological forces and so on, 
also plunged the revolution into grave problems as soon as it occurred. 
Conversely, it is the preponderance of culture in the West, in the sense of a 
complex array of hegemonic institutions in civil society, which makes 
political revolution difficult to inaugurate; but this same culture, in the 
sense of a society rich in technical, material and 'spiritual' resources, would 
make political revolution easier to sustain once it came about. This is 
perhaps the place to remark that for Lenin, as indeed for all Marxist thinkers 
up to Stalin, socialism was inconceivable without a high level of develop- 
ment of the productive forces, and more generally of 'culture'. Marxism was 
never intended to be a theory and practice of how desperately backward 
societies could leap, isolated and unaided, into the twentieth century; and 
the material consequence of such an attempt is generally known as 

If the concept of hegemony extends and enriches the notion of ideology, 
it also lends this otherwise somewhat abstract term a material body and 
political cutting edge. It is with Gramsci that the crucial transition is effected 
from ideology as 'systems of ideas' to ideology as lived, habitual social 
practice - which must then presumably encompass the unconscious, in- 
articulate dimensions of social experience as well as the workings of formal 
institutions. Louis Althusser, for whom ideology is largely unconscious and 
always institutional, will inherit both of these emphases; and hegemony as a 
'lived' process of political domination comes close in some of its aspects to 
what Raymond Williams calls a 'structure of feeling'. In his own discussion 
of Gramsci, Williams acknowledges the dynamic character of hegemony, as 
against the potentially static connotations of 'ideology': hegemony is never a 
once-and-for-all achievement, but 'has continually to be renewed, recreated, 
defended, and modified'. 21 As a concept, then, hegemony is inseparable from 
overtones of struggle, as ideology perhaps is not No single mode of 
hegemony, so Williams argues, can exhaust the meanings and values of any 
society; and any governing power is thus forced to engage with counter- 
hegemonic forces in ways which prove partly constitutive of its own rule. 
Hegemony is thus an inherently relational, as well as practical and dynamic, 
notion; and it offers in this sense a signal advance on some of the more 
ossified, scholastic definitions of ideology to be found in certain "vulgar' 
currents of Marxism. 

Very roughly, then, we might define hegemony as a whole range of 



practical strategies by which a dominant power elicits consent to its rule 
from those its subjugates. To win hegemony, in Gramsci's view, is to establish 
moral political and intellectual leadership in social life by diffusing one's 
own *world view' throughout the fabric of society as a whole, thus equating 
one's own interests with the interests of society at large. Such consensual rule 
is not, of course, peculiar to capitalism; indeed one might claim that any 
form of political power, to be durable and well-grounded, must evoke at 
least a degree of consent from its underlings. But there are good reasons to 
believe that in capitalist society in particular, the ratio between consent and 
coercion shifts decisively towards the former. In such conditions, the power 
of the state to discipline and punish - what Gramsci terms 'domination' - 
remains firmly in place, and indeed in modern societies grows more 
formidable as the various technologies of oppression begin to proliferate. 
But the institutions of 'civil society' - schools, families, churches, media and 
the rest - now play a more central role in the processes of social control. The 
bourgeois state will resort to direct violence if it is forced to it; but in doing 
so it risks suffering a drastic loss of ideological credibility. It is preferable on 
the whole for power to remain conveniendy invisible, disseminated 
throughout the texture of social life and thus 'naturalized' as custom, habit, 
spontaneous practice. Once power nakedly reveals its hand, it can become an 
object of political contestation. 22 

A shift from coercion to consent is implicit in the very material condi- 
tions of middle-class society. Since that society is composed of 'free', appar- 
ently autonomous individuals, each pursuing their own private interests, any 
centralized political supervision of these atomized subjects becomes con- 
siderably harder to sustain. Each of them must consequendy become his or 
her own seat of self-government; each must 'internalize' power, make it 
spontaneously their own and bear it around with them as a principle 
inseparable from their identities. A social order must be constructed, 
Gramsci writes, 'in which the individual can govern himself without his 
self-government thereby entering into conflict with political society - but 
rather becoming its normal continuation, its organic complement'. 23 *State 
life', he adds, must become 'spontaneous', af one with the individual subject's 
'free' identity; and if this is the 'psychological' dimension of hegemony, it is 
one with a solid material basis in middle-class life. 

In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci rejects out of hand any purely negative 
use of the term ideology. This 'bad' sense of the term has become wide- 
spread, he remarks, 'with the effect that the theoretical analysis of the 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

concept of ideology has been modified and denatured'. 2 * Ideology has been 
too often seen as pure appearance or mere obtuseness, whereas a distinction 
must in fact be drawn between 'historically organic' ideologies - meaning 
those necessary to a given social structure - and ideology in the sense of the 
arbitrary speculations of individuals. This parallels to some extent the 
opposition we have observed elsewhere between 'ideology' and Svorld view', 
though we should note that for Marx himself the negative sense of ideology 
was by no means confined to arbitrary subjective speculation. Gramsci also 
dismisses any economistic reduction of ideology to the mere bad dream of 
the infrastructure: on the contrary, ideologies must be viewed as actively 
organizing forces which are psychologically 'valid', fashioning the terrain on 
which men and women act, struggle and acquire consciousness of their 
social positions. In any 'historical bloc', Gramsci comments, material forces 
are the 'content', and ideologies the 'form'. 

The German Ideology's equation of ideology with speculative illusion is for 
Gramsci simply one historically determinate phase through which such 
ideologies pass: every conception of the world, he observes, might at some 
point come to assume a'speculative form which represents at once its histor- 
ical highpoint and the beginnings of its dissolution. 

One could say, that is, that every culture has its speculative and religious 
moment, which coincides with the period of complete hegemony of the 
social group of which it is the expression and perhaps coincides exactly with 
the moment in which the real hegemony disintegrates at the base, molecu- 
larly: but precisely because of this disintegration, and to react against it, the 
system of thought perfects itself as a dogma and becomes a transcendental 
'faith'. 25 

What the early Marx and Engels are tempted to see as the eternal form of all 
ideology is for Gramsci a specific historical phenomenon. 

Gramsci's theory of ideology, then, is cast like Lukacs's in what is known 
as the 'historicist' mould. He is as suspicious as Lukacs of any appeal to a 
'scientific' Marxism which ignores the practical, political, historically relative 
nature of Marxist theory, and grasps that theory as the expression of revolu- 
tionary working-class consciousness. An 'organic' ideology is not simply 
false consciousness, but one adequate to a specific stage of historical 
development and a particular political moment To judge the whole of past 
philosophy as mere 'delirium and folly', in the manner of 'vulgar' Marxism, 



is an anachronistic error which assumes that men and women in the past 
should have thought as we do today. But it is also, ironically, a hangover 
from the metaphysical dogma of that past, presupposing as it does an 
eternally valid form of thought by which all ages can be judged. The fact 
that theoretical systems have been superseded does not mean that they were 
not once historically valid. Marxism is simply the form of historical 
consciousness adequate to the present moment, and will wither away when 
that moment is in its turn surpassed. If it seizes hold of historical contradic- 
tions, it also grasps itself as one element of those contradictions, and indeed 
is their most complete, because most conscious, expression. For Marxism to 
assert that every supposedly eternal truth has practical historical origins is 
inevitably for it to turn this perspective upon itself. When this fails to 
happen, Marxism itself rapidly petrifies into a metaphysical ideology. 

For Gramsci, the consciousness of subordinated groups in society is 
typically fissured and uneven. Two conflicting conceptions of the world 
usually exist in such ideologies, the one drawn from the 'official' notions of 
the rulers, the other derived from an oppressed people's practical experience 
of social reality. Such conflicts might take the form of what we have seen 
earlier as a 'performative contradiction' between what a group or class says, 
and what it tacitly reveals in its behaviour. But this is not to be seen as mere 
self-deception: such an explanation, Gramsci thinks, might be adequate in 
the case of particular individuals, but not in the case of great masses of men 
and women. These contradictions in thought must have an historical base; 
and Gramsci locates this in the contrast between the emergent concept of the 
world which a class displays when it acts as an 'organic totality', and its 
submission in more 'normal' times to the ideas of those who govern it. One 
aim of revolutionary practice, then, must be to elaborate and make explicit 
the potentially creative principles implicit in the practical understanding of 
the oppressed - to raise these otherwise inchoate, ambiguous elements of its 
experience to the status of a coherent philosophy or 'world view'. 

What is at stake here, to put the matter in Lukacs's terms, is a transition 
from the 'empirical' consciousness of the working class to its 'possible' 
consciousness - to the world view it could attain in propitious conditions, 
and which is even now implicit in its experience. But whereas Lukacs is 
disturbingly vague about how such a transition is to come about, Gramsci 
offers a highly precise answer to this question: the activity of the 'organic' 
intellectuals. 'Organic' intellectuals, of whom Gramsci himself was one, are 
the product of an emergent social class; and their role is to lend that class 


From Lukacs to Gramsci 

some homogeneous self-consciousness in the cultural, political and 
economic fields. The category of organic intellectual thus spans not only 
ideologues and philosophers but political activists, industrial technicians, 
political economists, legal specialists and so on. Such a figure is less a 
contemplative thinker, in the old idealist style of the intelligentsia, than an 
organizer, constructor, 'permanent persuader', who actively participates in 
social life and helps bring to theoretical articulation those positive political 
currents already contained within it Philosophical activity, Gramsci 
remarks, must be seen 'as above all a cultural battle to transform the popular 
"mentality" and to diffuse the philosophical innovations which will prove 
themselves to be "historically true" to the extent that they become 
concretely - i.e. historically and socially - universal'. 26 The organic in- 
tellectual thus provides the link or pivot between philosophy and the people, 
adept at the former but actively identified with the latter. His or her goal is 
to construct out of the common consciousness a 'cultural-social' unity in 
which otherwise heterogeneous individual wills are welded together on the 
basis of a common conception of the world. 

The organic intellectual thus neither sentimentally acquiesces in the 
current state of awareness of the masses, nor brings to them some alien truth 
from 'above', as in the usual banal caricature of Leninism widespread today 
even on the political left. (It is worth nothing here that Gramsci himself, far 
from being the precursor of a 'liberal' Marxism which regards political 
leadership as 'elitist', was a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist) All men and 
women, he asserts, are in some sense intellectuals, in that their practical 
activity involves an implicit 'philosophy' or conception of the world. The 
role of the organic intellectual, as we have seen, is to give shape and cohesion 
to this practical understanding, thus unifying theory and practice. 'One can 
construct', Gramsci argues, 'on a specific practice, a theory which, by 
coinciding and identifying itself with the decisive elements of the practice 
itself, can accelerate the historical process that is going on, rendering 
practice more homogeneous, more coherent, more efficient in all its 
elements, and thus, in other words, developing its potential to the maxi- 
mum...' 27 

To do this, however, means combatting much that is negative in the 
empirical consciousness of the people, to which Gramsci gives the tide of 
'common sense'. Such common sense is a 'chaotic aggregate of disparate 
conceptions' - an ambiguous, contradictory zone of experience which is on 
the whole politically backward. How could we expect it to be otherwise, if a 



ruling bloc has had centuries in widen to perfect its hegemony? In Gramsci's 
view there is a certain continuum between 'spontaneous* and 'scientific' 
consciousness, such that the difficulties of the latter should not be in- 
timidatingly overestimated; but there is also a permanent war between 
revolutionary theory and the mythological or folkloric conceptions of the 
masses, and the latter is not to be patronizingly romanticized at the expense 
of the former. Certain 'folk' conceptions, Gramsci holds, do indeed 
spontaneously reflect important aspects of social life; 'popular consciousness' 
is not to be dismissed as purely negative, but its more progressive and more 
reactionary features must instead be carefully distinguished. 28 Popular 
morality, for example, is partly the fossilized residue of an earlier history, 
partly 'a range of often creative and progressive innovations . . . which go 
against, or merely differ from, the morality of the ruling strata of society'. 2 * 
What is needed is not just some paternalist endorsement of existing popular 
consciousness, but the construction of 'a new common sense and with it a 
new culture and a new philosophy which will be rooted in the popular 
consciousness with the same solidity and imperative quality as traditional 
beliefs'. 30 The function of the organic intellectuals, in other words, is to forge 
the links between 'theory' and 'ideology', creating a two-way passage 
between political analysis and popular experience. And the term ideology 
here 'is used in its highest sense of a conception of the world that is 
implicitly manifest in art, in law, in economic activity and in all manifest- 
ations of individual and collective life'. 31 Such a 'world view' cements 
together a social and political bloc, as a unifying, organizing, inspirational 
principle rather than a system of abstract ideas. 

The opposite of the organic intellectual is the 'traditional' one, who 
believes himself quite independent of social life. Such figures (clerics, idealist 
philosophers, Oxford dons and the rest) are in Gramsci's view hangovers 
from some previous historical epoch, and in this sense the distinction 
between 'organic' and 'traditional' can be to some extent deconstructed. A 
traditional intellectual was perhaps once organic, but is now no longer so; 
idealist philosophers served the middle class well in its revolutionary heyday, 
but are now a marginal embarrassment. The distinction between traditional 
and organic intellectual corresponds roughly to one we have traced between 
the negative and the positive senses of ideology: ideology as thought which 
has come unstuck from reality, as opposed to ideology as ideas in the active 
service of a class's interests. The traditional intellectual's trust in his or her 
independence of the ruling class is for Gramsci the material basis of philo- 


From Lukacs to Gramsci 

sophical idealism - of the gullible faith, denounced by The German Ideology 
that the source of ideas is other ideas. For Marx and Engels, by contrast, ideas 
have no independent history at all: they are the products of specific historical 
conditions. But this belief in the autonomy of thought may serve a particular 
ruling class exceedingly well; and to this extent the now traditional intellec- 
tual may once have fulfilled an 'organic' function precisely in his social 
disconnectedness. Indeed Gramsci himself suggests as much when he claims 
that the speculative view of the world belongs to a class at the acme of its 
power. We should remember in any case that the traditional intellectual's 
trust in the autonomy of ideas is not sheer illusion: given die material condi- 
tions of middle-class society, such members of the intelligentsia really do 
occupy a highly 'mediated' position in relation to social life. 

Like Lukacs and Goldmann, Gramsci is an historicist Marxist who believes 
that truth is historically variable, relative to the consciousness of the most 
progressive social class of a particular epoch. Objectivity, he writes, always 
means 'humanly objective', which can in turn be decoded as 'historically or 
universally subjective'. Ideas are true in so far as they serve to cohere and 
promote those forms of consciousness which are in tune with the most 
significant tendencies of an era. The alternative case to this is to claim that 
the assertion that Julius Caesar was assassinated, or that the wage-relation 
under capitalism is exploitative, is either true or it is not. A universal 
consensus might always prove retrospectively to have been false. Moreover, 
by what criteria do we judge that a specific historical development is 
progressive? How do we decide what counts as the 'possible' consciousness 
or most richly elaborated world view of the working class? How do we 
determine what a class's true interests are? If there are no criteria for such 
judgements outside that class's own consciousness, then it would seem that 
we are trapped here in just the same kind of vicious epistemological circle 
we noted in the case of Georg Lukacs. If those ideas are true which serve to 
realize certain social interests, does this not open the door to a cynical 
pragmatism which, as with Stalinism, defines objectivity as whatever 
happens politically to suit you? And if the test of the truth of ideas is that 
they do in fact promote such desirable interests, how can we ever be sure 
that it was the ideas in question which did the promoting, rather than some 
other historical factor? 

Gramsci has been criticized by 'structuralist' Marxists such as Nicos 
Poulantzas for committing the historicist error of reducing ideology to the 



expression of a social class, and reducing a dominant class to the 'essence* of 
the social formation. 32 For Poulantzas, it is not the hegemonic class which 
binds society together; on the contrary, the unity of a social formation is a 
structural affair, an effect of the interlocking of several 'levels' or 'regions' of 
social life under the finally determining constraints of a mode of produc- 
tion. The political reality of a ruling class is one level within this formation, 
not the principle which gives unity and direction to the whole. In a similar 
way, ideology is a complex material structure, not just a kind of collective 
subjectivity. A dominant ideology reflects not just the world view of the 
rulers, but the relations between governing and dominated classes in society 
as a whole. Its task is to recreate, at an 'imaginary' level, the unity of the entire 
social formation, not just to lend coherence to the consciousness of its rulers. 
The relation between a hegemonic class and a dominant ideology is thus 
indirect: it passes, so to speak, through the mediation of the total social 
structure. Such an ideology cannot be deciphered from the consciousness of 
the governing bloc taken in isolation, but must be grasped from the stand- 
point of the whole field of class straggle. In Poulantzas's eyes, historicist 
Marxism is guilty of the idealist mistake of believing that it is a dominant 
ideology or world view which secures the unity of society. For him, by 
contrast, the dominant ideology reflects that unity, rather than constituting it. 

Gramsci's work is certainly vulnerable at points to Poulantzas's critique of 
historicism; but he is by no means enamoured of any 'pure' class subject. An 
oppositional world view is not for him just the expression of proletarian 
consciousness, but an irreducibly composite affair. Any effective revolution- 
ary movement must be a complex alliance of forces; and its world view will 
result from a transformative synthesis of its various ideological components 
into a 'collective will'. Revolutionary hegemony, in other words, involves a 
complex practice upon given radical ideologies, rearticulating their motifs 
into a differentiated whole. 33 Nor does Gramsci overlook the relational 
nature of such world views, as Lukacs is occasionally tempted to do. We have 
seen already that he by no means underestimates the extent to which the 
consciousness of the oppressed is 'tainted' by the beliefs of its superiors; but 
this relation also works the other way round. Any hegemonic class, he writes 
in The Prison Notebooks, must take account of the interests and tendencies of 
those over whom it exerts power, and must be prepared to compromise in 
this respect. Nor does he always posit a direct relation between a dominant 
class and a dominant ideology: 'A class some of whose strata still have a 
Ptolemaic conception of the world can none the less be the representative of 


From Lukdcs to Gramsci 

a very advanced historical situation.' 3 '* 'Structuralist' Marxism has custom- 
arily accused its historicist counterpart of failing to distinguish between a 
dominant and a determinant social class - of overlooking the fact that one class 
can exercise political dominance on the basis of the economic determinacy 
of another. Indeed something of the kind could be said of nineteenth- 
century Britain, where the economically determinant middle class largely 
'delegated' its.political power to the aristocracy. This is not a situation which 
any theory assuming a one-to-one relation between classes and ideologies 
can easily decipher, since the resultant ruling ideology will be typically a 
hybrid of elements drawn from the experience of both classes. It is a sign of 
Gramsci's subtle historical insight, however, that his brief comments on 
British social history in The Prison Notebooks run very much along these lines: 

[In nineteenth-century England] there is a very extensive category of organic 
intellectuals - those, that is, who come into existence on the same industrial 
terrain as the economic group - but in the higher sphere we find that the old 
land-owning class preserves its position of virtual monopoly. It loses its 
economic supremacy but maintains for a long time a politico-intellectual 
supremacy and is assimilated as 'traditional intellectuals' and as a directive 
group by the new group in power. The old land-owning aristocracy is joined 
to the industrialists by a kind of suture which is precisely that which in other 
countries unites the traditional intellectuals with the new dominant classes. 55 

A whole vital aspect of British class history is here summarized with brilliant 
succinctness, as enduring testimony to the creative originality of its author. 


From Ad orno to 
bo urdie u 

WE SAW in chapter 3 how a theory of ideology can be generated from the 
commodity form. But at the heart of Marx's economic analysis lies another 
category also of relevance to ideology, and this is the concept of exchange 
value. In the first volume of Capital, Marx explains how two commodities 
with quite different 'use-values' can be equally exchanged, on the principle 
that both contain the same amount of abstract labour. If it takes the same 
quantity of labour-power to produce a Christmas pudding and a toy 
squirrel, then these products will have the same exchange-value, which is to 
say that the same amount of money can buy them both. But the specific 
differences between these objects are thereby suppressed, as their use-value 
becomes subordinate to their abstract equivalence. 

If this principle reigns in the capitalist economy, it can also be observed at 
work in the higher reaches of the 'superstructure'. In the political arena of 
bourgeois society, all men and women are abstractly equal as voters and 
citizens; but this theoretical equivalence serves to mask their concrete 
inequalities within 'civil society'. Landlord and tenant, businessman and 
prostitute, may end up in adjacent polling booths. Much the same is true 
of the juridical institutions: all individuals are equal before the law, but 
this merely obscures the way in which the law itself is ultimately on the 
side of the propertied. Is there, then, some way of tracking this principle 
of false equivalence even further up the so-called superstructure, into 



the heady realms of ideology? 

For the Frankfurt School Marxist Theodor Adorno, this mechanism of 
abstract exchange is the very secret of ideology itself. Commodity exchange 
effects an equation between things which are in fact incommensurable, and 
so, in Adorno's view, does ideological thought Such thought is revolted by 
the sight of 'otherness', of that which threatens to escape its own closed 
system, and violently reduces it to its own image and likeness. 'If the lion had 
a consciousness', Adorno writes in Negative Dialectics, 'his rage at the antelope 
he wants to eat would be ideology'. Indeed Fredric Jameson has suggested 
that the fundamental gesture of all ideology is exactly such a rigid binary 
opposition between the self or familiar, which is positively valorized, and the 
non-self or alien, which is thrust beyond the boundaries of intelligibility. 1 
The ethical code of good versus evil, so Jameson considers, is then the most 
exemplary model of this principle. Ideology for Adorno is thus a form of 
'identity thinking' - a covertly paranoid style of rationality which inexorably 
transmutes the uniqueness and plurality of things into a mere simulacrum of 
itself, or expels them beyond its own borders in a panic-stricken act of 

On this account, the opposite of ideology would be not truth or theory, 
but difference or heterogeneity. And in this as in other ways, Adorno's 
thought strikingly prefigures that of the post-structuralists of our own day. 
In the face of this conceptual straitjacketing, he affirms the essential non- 
identity of thought and reality, the concept and its object. To suppose that 
the idea of freedom is identical with the poor travesty of it available in the 
capitalist market place is to fail to see that this object does not live up to its 
concept Conversely, to imagine that the being of any object can be 
exhausted by the concept of it is to erase its unique materiality, since 
concepts are ineluctably general and objects stubbornly particular. Ideology 
homogenizes the world, spuriously equating distinct phenomena; and to undo 
it thus demands a 'negative dialectics', which strives, perhaps impossibly, to 
include within thought that which is heterogeneous to it. For Adorno, the 
highest paradigm of such negative reason is art, which speaks up for the 
differential and non-identical, promoting the claims of the sensuous 
particular against the tyranny of some seamless totality. 2 

Identity, then, is in Adorno's eyes the 'primal form' of all ideology. Our 
reified consciousness reflects a world of objects frozen in their mono- 
tonously self-same being, and in thus binding us to what is, to the purely 
'given', blinds us to the truth that 'what is, is more than it is'. 3 In contrast 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

with much post-structuralist thinking, however, Adorno neither uncritically 
celebrates the notion of difference nor unequivocally denounces the 
principle of identity. For all its paranoid anxiety, the identity principle 
carries with it a frail hope that one day true reconciliation will come about; 
and a world of pure differences would be indistinguishable from one of pure 
identities. The idea of Utopia travels beyond both conceptions: it would be, 
instead, a 'togetherness in diversity'. 4 The aim of socialism is to liberate the 
rich diversity of sensuous use-value from the metaphysical prison-house of 
exchange-value - to emancipate history from the specious equivalences 
imposed upon it by ideology and commodity production. 'Reconciliation', 
Adorno writes, 'would release the non-identical, would rid it of coercion, 
including spiritualized coercion; it would open the road to the multiplicity 
of different things and strip dialectics of its power over them.' 5 

How this is to come about, however, is not easy to see. For the critique of 
capitalist society demands the use of analytic reason; and such reason would 
seem for Adorno, at least in some of his moods, intrinsically oppressive and 
reificatory. Indeed logic itself, which Marx once described as a 'currency of 
the mind', is a kind of generalized barter or false equalization of concepts 
analogous to the exchanges of the market place. A dominative rationality, 
then, can be unlocked only with concepts already irredeemably contamin- 
ated by it; and this proposition itself, since it obeys the rules of analytic 
reason, must already be on the side of dominion. In Dialectic of Enlightenment 
(1947), co-authored by Adorno and his colleague Max Horkheimer, reason 
has become inherently violent and manipulative, riding roughshod over the 
sensuous particularities of Nature and the body. Simply to think is to be 
guiltily complicit with ideological domination; yet to surrender instru- 
mental thought altogether would be to lapse into barbarous irrationalism. 

The identity principle strives to suppress all contradiction, and for 
Adorno this process has been brought to perfection in the reified, bureau- 
cratized, administered world of advanced capitalism. Much the same bleak 
vision is projected by Adorno's Frankfurt School colleague Herbert Marcuse, 
in his One-Dimensional Man (1964). Ideology, in short, is a 'totalitarian' 
system which has managed and processed all social conflict out of existence. 
It is not only that this thesis would come as something of a surprise to those 
who actually run the Western system; it is also that it parodies the whole 
notion of ideology itself. The Frankfurt School of Marxism, several of whose 
members were refugees from Nazism, simply projects the 'extreme' ideo- 
logical universe of fascism onto the quite different structures of liberal 



capitalist regimes. Does all ideology work by the identity principle, ruth- 
lessly expunging whatever is heterogeneous to it? What, for example, of the 
ideology of liberal humanism, which in however specious and restricted a 
fashion is able to make room for variousness, plurality, cultural relativity, 
concrete particularity? Adorno and his fellow workers deliver us something 
of a straw target of ideology, in the manner of those post-structuralist 
theorists for whom all ideology without exception would appear to turn 
upon metaphysical absolutes and transcendental foundations. The real 
ideological conditions of Western capitalist societies are surely a good deal 
more mixed and self-contradictory, blending 'metaphysical' and pluralistic 
discourses in various measures. An opposition to monotonous self-identity 
('It takes all kinds to make a world'); a suspicion of absolute truth claims 
('Everyone's entitled to their point of view'); a rejection of reductive 
stereotypes ('I take people as I find them'); a celebration of difference ('It'd be 
a strange world if we all thought the same'): these are part of the stock-in- 
trade of popular Western wisdom, and nothing is to be politically gained by 
caricaturing one's antagonist. Simply to counterpose difference to identity, 
plurality to unity, the marginal to the central, is to lapse back into binary 
opposition, as the more subtle deconstructors are perfectly aware. It is pure 
formalism to imagine that otherness, heterogeneity and marginality are 
unqualified political benefits regardless of their concrete social content 
Adorno, as we have seen, is not out simply to replace identity with differ- 
ence; but his suggestive critique of the tyranny of equivalence leads him too 
often to 'demonize' modern capitalism as a seamless, pacified, self- 
regulating system. This, no doubt, is what the system would like to be told; 
but it would probably be greeted with a certain scepticism in the corridors 
of Whitehall and Wall Street 

The later Frankfurt School philosopher Jurgen Habermas follows Adorno in 
dismissing the concept of a Marxist science, and in refusing to assign any 
particular privilege to the consciousness of the revolutionary proletariat. But 
whereas Adorno is then left with little to pit against the system but art and 
negative dialectics, Habermas turns instead to the resources of communica- 
tive language. Ideology for him is a form of communication systematically 
distorted by power - a discourse which has become a medium of domina- 
tion, and which serves to legitimate relations of organized force. For 
hermeneutical philosophers like Hans-Georg Gadamer, misunderstandings 
and lapses of communication are textual blockages to be rectified by sensi- 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

rive interpretation. Habermas, by contrast, draws attention to the possibility 
of an entire discursive system which is somehow deformed. What warps 
such discourse out of true is the impact upon it of extra-discursive forces: 
ideology marks the point at which language is bent out of communicative 
shape by the power interests which impinge upon it But this besieging of 
language by power is not just an external matter on the contrary, such 
dominion inscribes itself on the inside of our speech, so that ideology 
becomes a set of effects internal to particular discourses themselves. 

If a communicative structure is systematically distorted, then it will tend to 
present the appearance of normativity and justness. A distortion which is so 
pervasive tends to cancel all the way through and disappear from sight -just 
as we would not describe as a deviation or disability a condition in which 
everybody limped or dropped their aitches all the time. A systematically 
deformed network of communication thus tends to conceal or eradicate the 
very norms by which it might be judged to be deformed, and so becomes 
peculiarly invulnerable to critique. In this situation, it becomes impossible to 
raise within the network the question of its own workings or conditions of 
possibility, since it has, so to speak, confiscated these enquiries from the 
outset. The system's historical conditions of possibility are redefined by the 
system itself, thus evaporating into it. In the case of a 'successful' ideology, it 
is not as though one body of ideas is perceived to be more powerful 
legitimate or persuasive than another, but that the very grounds for choosing 
rationally between them have been deftly removed, so that it becomes 
impossible to think or desire outside the terms of the system itself. Such an 
ideological formation curves back upon itself like cosmic space, denying the 
possibility of any 'outside', forestalling the generation of new desires as well 
as frustrating those we already have. If a 'universe of discourse' is truly a 
universe then there is no standpoint beyond it where we might find a point of 
leverage for critique. Or if other universes are acknowledged to exist, then 
they are simply defined as incommensurable with one's own. 

Habermas, to his credit, subscribes to no such fantastic dystopian vision 
of an all-powerful, all-absorbent ideology. If ideology is language wrenched 
out of true, then we must presumably have some idea of what an 'authentic' 
communicative act would look like. There is, as we have noted, no appeal 
open for him to, some scientific metalanguage which would adjudicate in 
this respect among competing idioms; so he must seek instead to extract 
from our linguistic practices the structure of some underlying 'communica- 
tive rationality' - some 'ideal speech situation' which glimmers faintly 



through our actual debased discourses, and which may therefore furnish a 
norm or regulative model for the critical assessment of them.* 

The ideal speech situation would be one entirely free of domination, in 
which all participants would have symmetrically equal chances to select and 
deploy speech acts. Persuasion would depend on the force of the better 
argument alone, not on rhetoric, authority, coercive sanctions and so on. 
This model is no more than a heuristic device or necessary fiction, but it is 
in some sense implicit even so in our ordinary, unregenerate verbal dealings. 
All language, even of a dominative kind, is in Habermas's view inherently 
oriented to communication, and thus tacitly towards human consensus: 
even when 1 curse you I expect to be understood, otherwise why should 1 
waste my breath? Our most despotic speech acts betray, despite themselves, 
the frail oudines of a communicative rationality: in making an utterance a 
speaker implicitly claims that what she says is intelligible, true, sincere and 
appropriate to the discursive situation. (Quite how this applies to such 
speech acts as jokes, poems and shouts of glee is not so apparent.) There is, in 
other words, a kind of 'deep' rationality built into the very structures of our 
language, regardless of what we actually say, and it is this which provides 
Habermas with the basis for a critique of our actual verbal practices. In a 
curious sense, the very act of enunciation can become a normative judge- 
ment on what is enunciated. 

Habermas holds to a 'consensus' rather than 'correspondence* theory of 
truth, which is to say that he thinks truth less some adequation between 
mind and world than a question of the kind of assertion which everyone 
who could enter into unconstrained dialogue with the speaker would come 
to accept. But social and ideological domination currently prohibit such 
unconstrained communication; and until we can transform this situation 
(which for Habermas would mean fashioning a participatory socialist 
democracy), truth is bound to be, as it were, deferred. If we want to know 
the truth, we have to change our political form of life. Truth is thus deeply 
bound up with social justice: my truth claims refer themselves forward to 
some altered social condition where they might be 'redeemed'. It is thus that 
Habermas is able to observe that 'the truth of statements is linked in the last 
analysis to the intention of the good and the true life.' 7 

There is an important difference between this style of thought and that of 
the more senior members of the Frankfurt school. For them, as we have seen, 
society as it exists seems wholly reified and degraded, sinisterly successful in 
its capacity to 'administer' contradictions out of existence. This gloomy 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

vision does not prevent them from discerning some ideal alternative to it, of 
the kind that Adorno discovers in modernist arr, but it is an alternative with 
scant foundation in the given social order. It is less a dialectical function of 
that order, than a 'solution' parachuted in from some ontological outer 
space. It thus figures as a form of 'bad' utopianism, as opposed to that 'good' 
utopianism which seeks somehow to anchor what is desirable in what is 
actual. A degraded present must be patiently scanned for those tendencies 
which are at once indissolubly bound up with it, yet which - interpreted in a 
certain way - may be seen to point beyond it. So it is that Marxism, for 
example, is not just some kind of wishful thinking, but an attempt to 
discover an alternative to capitalism latent in the very dynamic of that form 
of life. In order to resolve its structural contradictions, the capitalist order 
would have to transcend itself into socialism; it is not simply a matter of 
believing that it would be pleasant for it to do so. The idea of a communica- 
tive rationality is another way of securing an internal bond between present 
and future, and so, like Marxism itself, is a form of 'immanent' critique. 
Rather than passing judgement on the present from the Olympian height of 
some absolute truth, it installs itself within the present in order to decipher 
those fault lines where the ruling social logic presses up against its own 
structural limits, and so could potentially surpass itself. There is a clear 
parallel between such immanent critique and what is nowadays known as 
deconstruction, which seeks similarly to occupy a system from the inside in 
order to expose those points of impasse or indeterminacy where its 
governing conventions begin to unravel. 

Habermas has often enough been accused of being a rationalist, and there 
is no doubt some justice in the charge. How far is it really possible, for 
example, to disentangle the 'force of the better argument' from the rhetor- 
ical devices by which it is conveyed, the subject-positions at stake, the play 
of power and desire which will mould such utterances from within? But if a 
rationalist is one who opposes some sublimely disinterested truth to mere 
sectoral interests, then Habermas is certainly not of this company. On the 
contrary, truth and knowledge are for him 'interested' to their roots. We 
need types of instrumental knowledge because we need to control our 
environment in the interests of survival. Similarly, we need the sort of moral 
or political knowledge attainable in practical communication because 
without it there could be no collective social life at all. 'I believe that I can 
show', Habermas remarks, 'that a species that depends for its survival on the 
structures of linguistic communication and cooperative, purposive-rational 



action must of necessity rely on reason.' 8 Reasoning, in short, is in our 
interests, grounded in the kind of biological species we are. Otherwise why 
would we bother to find out anything at all? Such 'species-specific' interests 
move, naturally, at a highly abstract level, and will tell us litde about 
whether we should vote Tory to keep the rates down. But as with com- 
municative rationality, they can serve even so as a political norm: ideological 
interests which damage the structures of practical communication can be 
judged inimical to our interests as a whole. As Thomas McCarthy puts it, we 
have a practical interest in 'securing and expanding possibilities of mutual 
and self-understanding in the conduct of life', 9 so that a kind of politics is 
derivable from the sort of animals we are. Interests are constitutive of our 
knowledge, not just (as the Enlightenment believed) obstacles in its path But 
this is not to deny that there are kinds of interest which threaten our 
fundamental requirements as a species, and these are what Habermas terms 

The opposite of ideology for Habermas is not exactly truth or knowledge, 
but that particular form of 'interested' rationality we call emancipatory critique. 
It is in our interests to rid ourselves of unnecessary constraints on our 
common dialogue, for unless we do the kinds of truths we need to establish 
will be beyond our reach An emancipatory critique is one which brings 
these institutional constraints to our awareness, and this can be achieved 
only by the practice of collective self-reflection. There are certain forms of 
knowledge that we need at all costs in order to be free; and an emancipatory 
critique such as Marxism or Freudianism is simply whatever form of 
knowledge this currently happens to be. In this kind of discourse, 'fact' 
(cognition) and 'value' (or interest) are not really separable: the patient in 
psychoanalysis, for example, has an interest in embarking on a process of 
self-reflection because without this style of cognition he will remain 
imprisoned in neurosis or psychosis. In a parallel way, an oppressed group or 
class, as we have seen in the thought of Lukacs, has an interest in getting to 
understand its social situation, since without this self-knowledge it will 
remain a victim of it. 

This analogy may be pursued a little further. Dominative social institu- 
tions are for Habermas somewhat akin to neurotic patterns of behaviour, 
since they rigidify human life into a compulsive set of norms and thus block 
the path to critical self-reflection. In both cases we become dependent on 
hypostasized powers, subject to constraints which are in fact cultural but 
which bear in upon us with all the inexorability of natural forces. The 


From Aiomo to Bourdieu 

gratificatory instincts which such institutions thwart are then either driven 
underground, in the phenomenon Freud dubs 'repression', or sublimated 
into metaphysical world views, ideal value systems of one kind or another, 
which help to console and compensate individuals for the real-life restric- 
tions they must endure. These value systems thus serve to legitimate the 
social order, channelling potential dissidence into illusory forms; and this, in 
a nutshell, is the Freudian theory of ideology. Habermas, like Freud himself, 
is at pains to emphasize that these idealized world views are not just illusions: 
however distortedly, they lend voice to genuine human desires, and thus 
conceal a Utopian core. What we can now only dream of might always be 
realized in some emancipated future, as technological development liberates 
individuals from the compulsion of labour. 

Habermas regards psychoanalysis as a discourse which seeks to emanci- 
pate us from systematically distorted communication, and. so as sharing 
common ground with the critique of ideology. Pathological behaviour, in 
which our words belie our actions, is thus roughly equivalent to ideology's 
'performative contradictions'. Just as the neurotic may vehemendy deny a 
wish which nevertheless manifests itself in symbolic form on the body, so a 
ruling class may proclaim its belief in liberty while obstructing it in practice. 
To interpret these deformed discourses means not just translating them into 
other terms, but reconstructing their conditions of possibility and 
accounting for what Habermas calls 'the generic conditions of the un- 
meaning'. 10 It is not enough, in other words, to unscramble a distorted text: 
we need rather to explain the causes of the textual distortion itself. As 
Habermas puts the point with unwonted pithiness: The mutilations [of the 
text] have meaning as such'" It is not just a question of deciphering a 
language accidentally afflicted with slippages, ambiguities and non- 
meanings; it is rather a matter of explaining the forces at work of which 
these textual obscurities are a necessary effect The breaks in the text', 
Habermas writes, 'are places where an interpretation has forcibly prevailed 
that is ego-alien even though it is produced by the self... The result is that 
the ego necessarily deceives itself about its identity in the symbolic struc- 
tures that it consciously produces.' 12 

To analyse a form of systematically distorted communication, whether 
dream or ideology, is thus to reveal how its lacunae, repetitions, elisions and 
equivocations are themselves significant. As Marx puts the point in Theories 
of Surplus Value: 'Adam Smith's contradictions are of significance because 
they contain problems which it is true he does not resolve, but which he 



reveals by contradicting himself." 3 If we can lay bare the social conditions 
which 'force* a particular discourse into certain deceptions and disguises, we 
can equally examine the repressed desires which introduce distortions into 
the behaviour of a neurotic patient, or into the text of a dream. Both psycho- 
analysis and 'ideology critique', in other words, focus upon the points where 
meaning and force intersect. In social life, a mere attention to meaning, as in 
hermeneutics, will fail to show up the concealed power interests by which 
these meanings are internally moulded. In psychical life, a mere concentra- 
tion on what Freud calls the 'manifest content' of the dream will blind us to 
the 'dream work' itself, where the forces of the unconscious are most 
stealthily operative. Both dream and ideology are in this sense 'doubled' 
texts, conjunctures of signs and power, so that to accept an ideology at face 
value would be like falling for what Freud terms 'secondary revision', the 
more or less coherent version of the dream text that the dreamer delivers 
when she wakes. In both cases, what is produced must be grasped in terms of 
its conditions of production; and to this extent Freud's own argument has 
much in common with The German Ideology. If dreams cloak unconscious 
motivations in symbolic guise, then so do ideological texts. 

This suggests a further analogy between psychoanalysis and the study of 
ideology, which Habermas himself does not adequately explore. Freud 
describes the neurotic symptom as a 'compromise formation', since within 
its structure two antagonistic forces uneasily coexist. On the one hand there 
is the unconscious wish which seeks expression; on the other hand there is 
the censorious power of the ego, which strives to thrust this wish back into 
the unconscious. The neurotic symptom, like the dream text, thus reveals 
and conceals at once. But so also, one might claim, do dominant ideologies, 
which are not to be reduced to mere 'disguises'. The middle-class ideology 
of liberty and individual autonomy is no mere fiction: on the contrary, it 
signified in its time a real political victory over a brutally repressive 
feudalism. At the same time, however, it serves to mask the genuine 
oppressiveness of bourgeois society. The 'truth' of such ideology, as with the 
neurotic symptom, lies neither in the revelation nor the concealment alone, 
but in the contradictory unity they compose. It is not just a matter of 
stripping off some outer disguise to expose the truth, any more than an 
individual's self-deception is just a 'guise' he assumes. It is rather that what 
is revealed takes place in terms of what is concealed, and vice versa. 

Marxists often speak of 'ideological contradictions', as well as of 'contrad- 
ictions in reality' (though whether mis latter way of talking makes much 


From Adorrto to Bourdieu 

sense is a bone of contention amongst them). It might then be thought that 
ideological contradictions somehow 'reflect* or 'correspond to' contradic- 
tions in society itself. But the situation is in fact more complex than this 
suggests. Let us assume that there is a 'real' contradiction in capitalist society 
between bourgeois freedom and its oppressive effects. The ideological 
discourse of bourgeois liberty might also be said to be contradictory; but this 
is not exactly because it reproduces the 'real' contradiction in question. 
Rather, the ideology will tend to represent what is positive about such 
liberty, while masking, repressing or displacing its odious corollaries; and 
this masking or repressing work, as with the neurotic symptom, is likely to 
interfere from the inside with what gets genuinely articulated. One might 
claim, then, that the ambiguous, self-contradictory nature of the ideology 
springs precisely from its not authentically reproducing the real contradic- 
tion; indeed were it really to do so, we might hesitate about whether to term 
this discourse 'ideological' at all. 

There is a final parallel between ideology and psychical disturbance 
which we may briefly examine. A neurotic pattern of behaviour, in Freud's 
view, is not simply expressive of some underlying problem, but is actually a 
way of trying to cope with it. It is thus that Freud can speak of neurosis as 
the confused glimmerings of a kind of solution to whatever is awry. 
Neurotic behaviour is a strategy for tackling, encompassing and 'resolving' 
genuine conflicts, even if it resolves them in an imaginary way. The 
behaviour is not just a passive reflex of this conflict, but an active, if 
mystified, form of engagement with it. Just the same can be said of ideolo- 
gies, which are no mere inert by-products of social contradictions but 
resourceful strategies for containing, managing and imaginarily resolving 
them. Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey have argued that works of litera- 
ture do not simply 'take' ideological contradictions, in the raw, as it were, 
and set about lending them some factitious symbolic resolution. If such 
resolutions are possible, it is because the contradictions in question have 
already been surreptitiously processed and transformed, so as to appear in 
the literary work in the form of their potential dissolution. 14 The point may be 
applied to ideological discourse as such, which works upon the conflicts it 
seeks to negotiate, 'softening', masking and displacing them as the dream 
work modifies and transmutes the 'latent contents' of the dream itself. One 
might therefore attribute to the language of ideology something of the 
devices employed by the unconscious, in their respective labour upon their 
'raw materials': condensation, displacement, elision, transfer of affect, 



considerations of symbolic representability and so on. And the aim of this 
labour in both cases is to recast a problem in the form of its potential 

Any parallel between psychoanalysis and the critique of ideology must 
necessarily be imperfect. For one thing, Habermas himself tends in ration- 
alist style to downplay the extent to which the psychoanalytic cure comes 
about less through self-reflection than through the drama of transference 
between patient and analyst And it is not easy to think up an exact political 
analogy to this. For another thing, as Russell Keat has pointed out, the 
emancipation wrought by psychoanalysis is a matter of remembering or 
'working through' repressed materials, whereas ideology is less a question of 
something we have forgotten than of something we never knew in the first 
place. 15 We may note finally that in Habermas's view the discourse of the 
neurotic is a kind of privatized symbolic idiom which has become split off 
from public communication, whereas the 'pathology' of ideological 
language belongs fully to the public domain. Ideology, as Freud might have 
said, is a kind of psychopathology of everyday life - a system of distortion so 
pervasive that it cancels all the way through and presents every appearance 
of normality. 

Unlike Lukacs, Theodor Adorno has little time for the notion of reified 
consciousness, which he suspects as residually idealist. Ideology, for him as 
for the later Marx, is not first of all a matter of consciousness, but of the 
material structures of commodity exchange. Habermas, too, regards a 
primary emphasis on consciousness as belonging to an outmoded 'philos- 
ophy of the subject', and turns instead to what he sees as the more fertile 
ground of social discourse. 

The French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser is equally wary of the 
doctrine of reification, though for rather different reasons from Adorno's. 16 
In Althusser's eyes, reification, like its companion category of alienation, 
presupposes some 'human essence' which then undergoes estrangement; and 
since Althusser is a rigorously 'anti-humanist' Marxist, renouncing all idea 
of an 'essential humanity', he can hardly found his theory of ideology upon 
such 'ideological' concepts. Neither, however, can he base it on the alterna- 
tive notion of a *worId view'; for if Althusser is anti-humanist he is equally 
anti-historicist, sceptical of the whole conception of a 'class subject' and firm 
in his belief that the science of historical materialism is quite independent of 
class consciousness. What he does, then, is to derive a theory of ideology, of 


From Adomo toBourdieu 

impressive power and originality, from a combination of Lacanian psycho- 
analysis and the less obviously historicist features of Gramsci's work; and it is 
this theory that can be found in his celebrated essay 'Ideology and Ideological 
State Apparatuses', as well as in scattered fragments of his volume For Marx." 

Althusser holds that all thought is conducted within the terms of an 
unconscious 'problematic' which silendy underpins it A problematic, rather 
like<Michel Foucault's 'episteme', is a particular organization of categories 
which at any given historical moment constitutes the limits of what we are 
able to utter and conceive. A problematic is not in itself 'ideological': it 
includes, for example, the discourses of true science, which for Althusser is 
free of all ideological taint. But we can speak of the problematic of& specific 
ideology or set of ideologies; and to do so is to refer to an underlying struc- 
ture of categories so organized as to exclude the possibility of certain 
conceptions. An ideological problematic turns around certain eloquent 
silences and elisions; and it is so constructed that the questions which are 
posable within it already presuppose certain kinds of answer. Its funda- 
mental structure is thus closed, circular and self-confirming: wherever one 
moves within it, one will always be ultimately returned to what is securely 
known, of which what is unknown is merely an extension or repetition. 
Ideologies can never be taken by surprise, since like a counsel leading a 
witness in a law court they signal what would count as an acceptable answer 
in the very form of their questions. A scientific problematic, by contrast, is 
characterized by its open-endedness: it can be 'revolutionized' as new 
scientific objects emerge and a new horizon of questions opens up. Science is 
an authentically exploratory pursuit, whereas ideologies give the appearance 
of moving forward while marching stubbornly on the spot 

In a controversial move within Western Marxism, 18 Althusser insists on a 
rigorous distinction between 'science' (meaning among other things Marxist 
theory) and 'ideology'. The former is not just to be grasped in historicist style 
as the 'expression' of the latter; on the contrary, science or theory is a specific 
kind of labour with its own protocols and procedures, one demarcated from 
ideology by what Althusser calls an 'epistemological break'. Whereas histor- 
icist Marxism holds that theory is validated or invalidated by historical 
practice, Althusser holds that social theories, rather like mathematics, are 
verified by methods which are purely internal to them. Theoretical proposi- 
tions are true or false regardless of who happens to hold them for what 
historical reasons, and regardless of the historical conditions which give 
birth to them. 



Such an absolute opposition between science and ideology finds few 
defenders nowadays, and is clearly open to a range of cogent criticisms. To 
carve the world down the middle between science and ideology is to squeeze 
out the whole area we call 'practical' consciousness - statements such as 'it's 
raining' or 'do you need a lift?', which are neither scientific nor (in any 
especially useful sense of the term) ideological. In a regression to Enlighten- 
ment rationalism, Althusser in effect equates the opposition between science 
and ideology with one between truth and error - though in his Essays in Self- 
Criticism he acknowledges the 'theorericist* nature of this move." There are 
several reasons why tins homology will not work For one thing, ideology, as 
we have seen, is not just erroneous; and as Barry Barnes points out, ideo- 
logical interests of a dubious kind can themselves further the advance of 
scientific knowledge. (Barnes cites the case of Karl Pearson's school of statis- 
tics, which involved some rather sinister eugenic theory but led to valuable 
scientific work.) 20 For another thing, science itself is a ceaseless process of 
trial and error. Not all ideology is error, and not all error is ideological. A 
science may serve ideological functions, as Marx considered the work of the 
early political economists to do, and as Lenin considered Marxist science to 
be the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat Marx certainly judged the 
work of the bourgeois political economists to be scientific, able to some 
degree to penetrate the appearances of capitalist society; but he also thought 
it was inhibited at key points by ideological interests, and so was scientific 
and ideological at one and the same time. Science, to be sure, is not reducible 
to ideology, it is hard to see how research on the pancreas is no more than an 
expression of bourgeois interests, or how algebraic topology helps to 
legitimate the capitalist state. But it is, for all that, deeply inscribed by and 
embedded within ideology - either in the more neutral sense of the term as 
a whole socially determined way of seeing, or sometimes in the more pejora- 
tive sense of mystification. In modem capitalist society, what is ideological 
about science is not just this or that particular hypothesis, but the whole 
social phenomenon of science itself. Science as such - the triumph of 
technological, instrumental ways of seeing the world - acts as an important 
part of the ideological legitimation of the bourgeoisie, which is able to 
translate moral and political questions into technical ones resolvable by the 
calculations of experts. One does not need to deny the genuine cognitive 
content of much scientific discourse to claim that science is a potent modern 
myth. Althusser is thus mistaken to view all ideology, as he occasionally 
does, as 'pre-srientific', a body of prejudices and superstitions with which 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

science effects a preternaturally clean break. 

It is important, even so, to combat certain common travesties of his case. 
In his central essay on ideology, Althusser is not arguing that ideology is 
somehow inferior to theoretical knowledge; it is not a lesser, more confused 
sort of knowledge, but strictly speaking no kind of knowledge at all. 
Ideology, as we saw in chapter 1, denotes for Althusser the realm of lived 
relations' rather than theoretical cognition; and it makes no more sense to 
suggest that such lived relations are inferior to scientific knowledge than it 
does to claim that feeling one's blood boil is somehow inferior to measuring 
someone's blood pressure. Ideology is not a matter of truth or falsehood, any 
more than grinning or whistling are. Science and ideology are simply 
different registers of being, radically incommensurable with one another. 
There is no hint in this formulation that ideology is a negative phenomenon, 
any more than 'experience' itself is. To write a Marxist treatise on the politics 
of the Middle East would be for Althusser a scientific project; but it is not 
necessarily more important than the ideological act of shouting 'Down with 
the imperialists!', and in some circumstances might be a good deal less so. 

The Althusserian distinction between science and ideology is an episte- 
mological, not a sociological one. Althusser is not asserting that a cloistered 
elite of intellectuals have the monopoly of absolute truth, while the masses 
flounder about in some ideological quagmire. On the contrary, a middle- 
class intellectual may well live more or less entirely within the sphere of 
ideology, while a class-conscious worker may be an excellent theoretician. 
We cross back and forth all the time over the frontier between theory and 
ideology, a woman may chant feminist slogans on a demonstration in the 
morning (for Althusser an ideological practice), and pen an essay on the 
nature of patriarchy in the afternoon (a theoretical activity). Nor is 
Althusser's position theoreticist, holding that theory exists for its own sake. 
For him as for any Marxist, theory exists primarily for the sake of political 
practice; it is just that in his view its truth or falsity is not determined by that 
practice, and that, as a form of labour with its own material conditions of 
existence, it must be viewed as distinct from it. 

Moreover, if the methods of theoretical inquiry are peculiar to it, its 
materials are not. Theory goes to work, among other things, on ideology; 
and in the case of historical materialism this means the actual political 
experience of the working class, from which - for Althusser as much as for 
Lenin - the theorist must ceaselessly learn. Finally, though theory is the 
guarantee of its own truth, it is not some metaphysical dogmatism. What 



distinguishes a scientific from an ideological proposition is that the former 
can always be wrong. A scientific hypothesis is one that could always in 
principle be falsified; whereas it is hard to see how one could falsify a cry like 
'Reclaim the night!', or 'Long live the Fatherland!' 

Althusser, then, is not quite the austere high priest of theoretical 
terrorism lampooned by an enraged E.P. Thompson in The Poverty of Theory? 1 
In his later work, Althusser comes to modify the absoluteness of the science/ 
ideology antithesis, arguing that Marx himself was able to launch his 
scientific labours only after he had first taken up a 'proletarian position' in 
politics. 22 But he does not thereby surrender his scientistic prejudice that, 
strictly speaking, only scientific discourse counts as real knowledge; and he 
does not abandon his claim that knowledge itself is in no sense historical. 
Althusser refuses to recognize that the very categories within which we 
think are historical products. It is one thing to reject the historicist case that 
theory is simply an 'expression' of historical conditions - a case which tends 
to suppress the specificity of theoretical procedures. It is quite another thing 
to hold that theory is entirely independent of history, or to argue that it is 
wholly self-validating. Magical thought and scholastic theology are both 
rigorous, internally consistent bodies of doctrine, but Althusser would 
presumably not wish to rank them on a level with historical materialism. 

There is a difference between holding that historical circumstances 
thoroughly condition our knowledge, and believing that the validity of our 
truth claims is simply reducible to our historical interests. The latter case, as 
we shall see in the next chapter, is really that of Friedrich Nietzsche; and 
though Althusser's own case about knowledge and history is about as far 
from Nietzsche's as could be imagined, there is an ironic sense in which his 
major theses about ideology owe something to his influence. For Nietzsche, 
all human action is a kind of fiction: it presumes some coherent, autono- 
mous human agent (which Nietzsche regards as an illusion); implies that the 
beliefs and assumptions by which we act are firmly grounded (which for 
Nietzsche is not the case); and assumes that the effects of our actions can be 
rationally calculated (in Nietzsche's eyes yet another sad delusion). Action 
for Nietzsche is an enormous, if necessary, oversimplification of the un- 
fathomable complexity of the world, which thus cannot coexist with reflec- 
tion. To act at all means to repress or suspend such reflectiveness, to suiter a 
certain self-induced amnesia or oblivion. The 'true' conditions of our exist- 
ence, then, must necessarily be absent from consciousness at the moment of 
action. This absence is, so to speak, structural and determined, rather than a 


From Adorno to Bourdieu 

mere matter of oversight - rather as for Freud the concept of the un- 
conscious means that the forces which determine our being cannot by 
definition figure within our consciousness. We become conscious agents 
only by virtue of a certain determinate lack, repression or omission, which 
no amount of critical self-reflection could repair. The paradox of the human 
animal is that it comes into being as a subject only on the basis of a 
shattering repression of the forces which went into its making. 

The Althusserian antithesis of theory and ideology proceeds roughly 
along these lines. One might venture, in a first, crudely approximate formu- 
lation, that theory and practice are at odds for Nietzsche because he enter- 
tains an irrationalist suspicion of the former, whereas they are eternally 
discrepant for Althusser because he harbours a rationalist prejudice against 
the latter. All action for Althusser, including socialist insurrection, is carried 
on within the sphere of ideology; as we shall see in a moment, it is ideology 
alone which lends the human subject enough illusory, provisional coherence 
for it to become a practical social agent. From the bleak standpoint of theory, 
the subject has no such autonomy or consistency at all: it is merely the 
'overdetermined' product of this or that social structure. But since we would 
be loath to get out of bed if this truth was held steadily in mind, it must 
disappear from our 'practical* consciousness. And it is in this sense that the 
subject, for Althusser as for Freud, is the product of a structure which must 
necessarily be repressed in the very moment of 'subjectivation'. 

One can appreciate, then, why for Althusser theory and practice must 
always be somewhat at odds, in a way scandalous to the classical Marxism 
which insists on a dialectical relation between the two. But it is harder to see 
exactly what this discrepancy means. To claim that one cannot act and 
theorize simultaneously may be like saying that you cannot play the 
Moonlight Sonata and analyse its musical structure at one and the same time; 
or that you cannot be conscious of the grammatical rules governing your 
speech in the very heat of utterance. But this is hardly more significant than 
saying that you cannot chew a banana and play the bagpipes simultaneously; 
it has no philosophical import at all. It is certainly a far cry from maintaining a 
la Nietzsche that all action entails a necessary ignorance of its own enabling 
conditions. The trouble with this case, at least for a Marxist, is that it seems 
to rule out the possibility of theoretically informed practice, which 
Althusser, as an orthodox Leninist, would be hard put to it to abandon. To 
claim that your practice is theoretically informed is not of course the same as 
imagining that you could engage in intensive theoretical activity at the very 



moment you are closing the factory gates to lock out the police. What must 
happen, then, is that a theoretical understanding does indeed realize itself in 
practice, but only, as it were, through the 'relay' of ideology - of the 'lived 
fictions' of the actors concerned. And this will be a radically different form 
of understanding from that of the theorist in his study, involving as it does 
for Althusser an inescapable element of misrecognition 

What is misrecognized in ideology is not primarily the world, since 
ideology for Althusser is not a matter of knowing or failing to know reality 
at all. The misrecognition in question is essentially a je^-misrecognition, 
which is an effect of the 'imaginary' dimension of human existence. 
'Imaginary' here means not 'unreal' but 'pertaining to an image': the allusion 
is to Jacques Lacan's essay The mirror stage as formative of the function of 
the I', in which he argues that the small infant, confronted with its own 
image in a mirror, has a moment of jubilant misrecognition of its own 
actual, physically uncoordinated state, imagining its body to be more unified 
than it really is. 23 In this imaginary condition, no real distinction between 
subject and object has yet set in; the infant identifies with its own image, 
feeling itself at once within and in front of the mirror, so that subject and 
object glide ceaselessly in and out of each other in a sealed circuit. In the 
ideological sphere, similarly, the human subject transcends its true state of 
diffuseness or decentrement and finds a consolingly coherent image of itself 
reflected back in the 'mirror' of a dominant ideological discourse. Armed 
with this imaginary self, which for Lacan involves an 'alienation' of the 
subject, it is then able to act in socially appropriate ways. 

Ideology can thus be summarized as 'a representation of the imaginary 
relationships of individuals to their real conditions of existence'. In ideology, 
Althusser writes, 'men do indeed express, not the relation between them and 
their conditions of existence, but the way they live the relation between them 
and their conditions of existence: this presupposes both a real relation and an 
'imaginary 1 , 'lived' relation ... In ideology, the real relation is inevitably 
invested in the imaginary relation.' 24 Ideology exists only in and through the 
human subject; and to say that the subject inhabits the imaginary is to claim 
that it compulsively refers the world back to itself. Ideology is subject- 
centred or 'anthropomorphic': it causes us to view the world as somehow 
naturally oriented to ourselves, spontaneously 'given' to the subject; and the 
subject, conversely, feels itself a natural part of that reality, claimed and 
required by it. Through ideology, Althusser remarks, society 'interpellates' or 
'hails' us, appears to single us out as uniquely valuable and address us by 


From Adorno to Bourdieu 

name. Ir fosters the illusion that it could not get on without us, as we can 
imagine the small infant believing that if it disappeared then the world 
would vanish along with it. In thus 'identifying' us, beckoning us personally 
from the ruck of individuals and turning its face benignly towards us, 
ideology brings us into being as individual subjects. 

All of this, from the standpoint of a Marxist science, is in fact an illusion, 
since the dismal truth of the matter is that society has no need of me at all. It 
may need someone to fulfil my role within the process of production, but 
there is no reason why this particular person should be me. Theory is 
conscious of the secret that society has no 'centre' at all, being no more than 
an assemblage of 'structures' and 'regions'; and it is equally aware that the 
human subject is just as centreless, the mere 'bearer' of these various 
structures. But for purposive social life to get under way, these unpalatable 
truths must be masked in the register of the imaginary. The imaginary is 
thus in one sense clearly false: it veils from our eyes the way subjects and 
societies actually work But it is not false in the sense of being mere arbitrary 
deception, since it is a wholly indispensable dimension of social existence, 
quite as essential as politics or economics. And it is also not false in so far as 
the real ways we live our relations to our social conditions are invested in it 

There are a number of logical problems connected with this theory. To 
begin with, how does the individual human being recognize and respond to 
the 'hailing' which makes it a subject if it is not a subject already? Are not 
response, recognition, understanding, subjective faculties, so that one would 
need to be a subject already in order to become one? To this extent, absurdly, 
the subject would have to pre-date its own existence. Conscious of this 
conundrum, Althusser argues that we are indeed 'always-already' subjects, 
even in the womb: our coming, so to speak, has always been prepared for. 
But if this is true then it is hard to know what to make of his insistence on 
the 'moment' of interpellation, unless this is simply a convenient fiction. 
And it seems odd to suggest that we are 'centred' subjects even as embryos. 
For another thing, the theory runs headlong into all the dilemmas of any 
notion of identity based upon self-reflection. How can the subject recognize 
its image in the mirror as itself, if it does not somehow recognize itself 
already? There is nothing obvious or natural about looking in a mirror and 
concluding that the image one sees is oneself. Would there not seem a need 
here for a third, higher subject, who could compare the real subject with its 
reflection and establish that the one was truly identical with the other? And 
how did this higher subject come to identify itself? 



Althusser's theory of ideology involves at least two crucial misreadings of 
the psychoanalytic writings of Jacques Lacan - not surprisingly, given the 
sybilline obscurantism of the latter. To begin with, Althusser's imaginary 
subject really corresponds to the Lacanian ego, which for psychoanalytic 
theory is merely the tip of the iceberg of the self. It is the ego, for Lacan, 
which is constituted in the imaginary as a unified entity; the subject 'as a 
whole' is the split, lacking, desiring effect of the unconscious, which for 
Lacan belongs to the 'symbolic' as well as the imaginary order. The upshot of 
this misreading, then, is to render Althusser's subject a good deal more stable 
and coherent than Lacan's, since the buttoned-down ego is standing in here 
for the dishevelled unconscious. For Lacan, the imaginary dimension of our 
being is punctured and traversed by insatiable desire, which suggests a 
subject rather more volatile and turbulent than Althusser's serenely centred 
entities. The political implications of this misreading are clear to expel 
desire from the subject is to mute its potentially rebellious clamour, 
ignoring the ways in which it may attain its allotted place in the social order 
only ambiguously and precariously. Althusser, in effect, has produced an 
ideology of the ego, rather than one of the human subject; and a certain 
political pessimism is endemic in this misrepresentation. Corresponding to 
this ideological misperception of his on the side of the 'little' or individual 
subject is a tendentious interpretation of the 'big' Subject, the governing 
ideological signifiers with which the individual identifies. In Althusser's 
reading, this Subject would seem more or less equivalent to the Freudian 
superego, the censorious power which keeps us obediently in our places; in 
Lacan's work, however, this role is played by the 'Other', which means some- 
thing like the whole field of language and the unconscious. Since this, in 
Lacan's view, is a notoriously elusive, treacherous terrain in which nothing 
quite stays in place, the relations between it and the individual subject are a 
good deal more fraught and fragile than Althusser's model would imply. 25 
Once again, the political implications of this misunderstanding are pessi- 
mistic: if the power which subjects us is singular and authoritarian, more 
like the Freudian superego than the shifting, self-divided Lacanian Other, 
the chances of opposing it effectively would seem remote. 

If Althusser's subject were as split, desirous and unstable as Lacan's, then 
the process of interpellation might figure as a more chancy, contradictory 
affair than it actually does. 'Experience shows', Althusser writes with solemn 
banality, 'that the practical telecommunication of hailings is such that they 
hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whisde, the one hailed always 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

recognises that it is really him who is being hailed.' 26 The fact that Louis 
Althusser's friends apparendy never mistook his cheery shout of greeting in 
the street is offered here as irrefutable evidence that the business of ideo- 
logical interpellation is invariably successful. But is it? What if we fail to 
recognize and respond to the call of the Subject? What if we return the 
reply: 'Sorry, you've got the wrong person?' That we have to be interpellated 
as some kind of subject is clean the alternative, for Lacan, would be to fall 
outside the symbolic order altogether into psychosis. But there is no reason 
why we should always accept society's identification of us as this particular 
sort of subject Althusser simply runs together the necessity of some 'general' 
identification with our submission to specific social roles. There are, after 
all, many different ways in which we can be 'hailed', and some cheery cries, 
whoops and whisdes may strike us as more appealing than some others. 
Someone may be a mother, Methodist, house-worker and trade unionist all 
at the same time, and there is no reason to assume that these various forms 
of insertion into ideology will be mutually harmonious. Althusser's model is 
a good deal too monistic, passing over the discrepant, contradictory ways in 
which subjects may be ideologically accosted - partially, wholly, or hardly at 
all - by discourses which themselves form no obvious cohesive unity. 

As Peter Dews has argued, the cry with which the Subject greets us must 
always be interpreted; and there is no guarantee that we will do this in the 
'proper' fashion. 27 How can I know for sure what is being demanded of me, 
that it is J who am being hailed, whether the Subject has identified me 
aright? And since, for Lacan, I can never be fully present as a 'whole subject" 
in any of my responses, how can my accession to being interpellated be 
taken as 'authentic'? Moreover, if the response of the Other to me is bound 
up with my response to it, as Lacan would argue, then the situation becomes 
even more precarious. In seeking the recognition of the Other, I am led by 
this very desire to misrecognize it, grasping it in the imaginary mode; so the 
fact that there is desire at work here - a fact which Althusser overlooks - 
means that I can never quite grasp the Subject and its call as they really are, 
just as it can never quitejcnow whether I have 'truly' responded to its invoca- 
tion. In Lacan's own work, the Other just signifies this ultimately inscrutable 
nature of all individual subjects. No particular other can ever furnish me with 
the confirmation of my identity I seek, since my desire for such confirma- 
tion will always 'go beyond' this figure; and to write the other as Other is 
Lacan's way of signalling this truth. 

The political bleakness of Althusser's theory is apparent in his very 



conception of how the subject emerges into being. The word 'subject' 
literally means 'that which lies beneath', in the sense of some ultimate 
foundation; and throughout the history of philosophy there have been a 
number of candidates for this function. It is only in the modern period that 
the individual subject becomes in this sense foundational. But it is possible 
by a play on words to make "what lies beneath' mean *what is kept down*, 
and part of the Althusserian theory of ideology turns on this convenient 
verbal slide. To be 'subjectified' is to be 'subjected': we become 'free*, 
'autonomous' human subjects precisely by submitting ourselves obediently 
to the Subject, or Law. Once we have 'internalized' this Law, made it 
thoroughly our own, we begin to act it out spontaneously and unquestion- 
ingly. We come to work, as Althusser comments, 'all by ourselves', without 
need of constant coercive supervision; and it is this lamentable condition 
that we misrecognize as our freedom. In the words of the philosopher who 
stands behind all of Althusser's work - Baruch Spinoza - men and women 
'fight for their slavery as if they were fighting for their liberation' (Preface to 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus), The model behind this argument is the 
subjection of the Freudian ego to the superego, source of all conscience and 
authority. Freedom and autonomy, then, would seem to be sheer illusions: 
they signify simply that the Law is so deeply inscribed in us, so intimately at 
one with our desire, that we mistake it for our own free initiative. But this is 
only one side of the Freudian narrative. For Freud, as we shall see later, the 
ego will rebel against its imperious master if his demands grow too 
insupportable; and the political equivalent of this moment would be 
insurrection or revolution. Freedom, in short, can transgress the very Law of 
which it is an effect; but Althusser maintains a symptomatic silence about 
this more hopeful corollary of his case. For him, as even more glaringly for 
Michel Foucault, subjectivity itself would seem just a form of self-incarcer- 
ation; and the question of where political resistance springs from must thus 
remain obscure. It is this stoicism in the face of an apparently all-pervasive 
power or inescapable metaphysical closure which will flow into the current 
of post-structuralism. 

There is, then, a distinctly pessimistic note in the whole Althusserian 
conception of ideology, a pessimism which Perry Anderson has identified as 
an abiding feature of Western Marxism as such 28 It is as though the 
subjection to ideology which makes of us individual subjects is secured even 



From Adorno to Bourdieu 

before it has properly taken place. It works, so Althusser comments, 'in the 
vast majority of cases, with the exception of the "bad subjects" who on 
occasion provoke the intervention of one of the detachments of the 
(repressive) State apparatuses'. 29 One year before Althusser published these 
words, those 'bad subjects' - a mere aside in bis text - came close to toppling 
tie French state, in the political turmoil of 1968. Throughout his essay on 
'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses', there is a notable tension 
between two quite different versions of the topic. 30 On the one hand, he 
acknowledges from time to time that any enquiry into ideology must begin 
from the realities of class struggle. What he calls the ideological state 
apparatuses - school, family, church, media and the rest - are sites of such 
conflict, theatres of confrontation between the social classes. Having 
underlined this point, however, the essay appears to forget about it, veering 
off into what is really a functionalist account of ideology as that which helps 
to 'cement' together the social formation and adapt individuals to its 
requirements. This case owes something to Gramsci; but it is also only a 
short step from the commonplace doctrines of bourgeois sociology. After 
passing over the inherently conflicrive nature of ideology for some thirty 
pages, the essay then abruptly reinstates this perspective in a belatedly added 
postscript. There is, in other words, a hiatus between what Althusser asserts 
of the political nature of the ideological apparatuses - that they are fields of 
class struggle - and a 'sociologistic' notion of ideology which is much more 
politically neutral. 

A functionalist approach to social institutions reduces their material 
complexity to the status of mere supports for other institutions, placing their 
significance outside themselves; and such a view is strongly evident in 
Althusser's argument. For it is difficult to see that schools, churches, families 
and media are sheerly ideological structures, with no other purpose than to 
buttress the dominant power. Schools may teach civic responsibility and 
saluting the flag; but they also teach children to read and write, and 
sometimes how to fasten their shoelaces, which would presumably be 
necessary in a socialist order too. It would come as a pleasant surprise to His 
Holiness the Pope to learn that the church in Latin America was nothing 
more than a support of imperial power. Television disseminates bourgeois 
values; but it also tells us how to cook a curry or whether it might snow 
tomorrow, and occasionally broadcasts programmes highly embarrassing to 
the government. The family is an arena of oppression, not least for women 
and children; but it occasionally offers kinds of value and relationship at 



odds with the brutally uncaring world of monopoly capitalism. All of these 
institutions, in short, are internally contradictory, serving different social 
ends; and though Althusser sometimes recalls this, he just as quickly 
represses it again. Not all aspects of such apparatuses are ideological all of the 
time: it is misleading to think of the ideological 'superstructure' as a fixed 
realm of institutions which operate in an invariable way. 31 

What these institutions are functional for is in Althusser's view the 
economic 'base' of society. Their main role is to equip subjects with the 
forms of consciousness necessary for them to assume their 'posts' or 
functions within material production. But this is surely too economistic and 
'technicist* a model of ideology, as Althusser, in his appended postscript to 
the essay, has clearly become aware. It leaves no room for non-class 
ideologies such as racism and sexism; and even in class terms it is drastically 
reductive. The political, religious and other ideologies of a society are not 
exhausted by their functions within economic life. Althusser's theory of 
ideology would appear to lurch from the economic to the psychological 
with a minimum of mediation. It also suffers from a certain 'structuralist' 
bias: it is as though the social division of labour is a structure of locations to 
which particular forms of consciousness are automatically assigned, so that 
to occupy such a location is spontaneously to assume the kind of subjectivity 
appropriate to it That this flattens out the real complexity of class 
consciousness, quite apart from ignoring its entwinement with non-class 
ideologies, is surely clear. And as if all this were not enough, Althusser has 
even been accused, ironically enough, of committing the humanist error of 
equating all subjects with human ones; for legally speaking companies and 
local authorities can be subjects too. 

Whatever its flaws and limits, Althusser's account of ideology represents 
one of the major breakthroughs in the subject in modern Marxist thought. 
Ideology is now not just a distortion or false reflection, a screen which 
intervenes between ourselves and reality or an automatic effect of 
commodity production. It is an indispensable medium for the production of 
human subjects. Among the various modes of production in any society, 
there is one whose task is the production of forms of subjectivity themselves; 
and this is quite as material and historically variable as the production of 
chocolate bars or automobiles. Ideology is not primarily a matter of 'ideas': it 
is a structure which imposes itself upon us without necessarily having to pass 
through consciousness at all. Viewed psychologically, it is less a system of 
articulated doctrines than a set of images, symbols and occasionally concepts 


From Adortw to Bourdieu 

which we 'live' at an unconscious level. Viewed sociologically, it consists in a 
range of material practices or rituals (voting, saluting, genuflecting and so 
on) which are always embedded in material institutions. Althusser inherits 
this notion of ideology as habitual behaviour rather than conscious thought 
from Gramsci; but he presses the case to a quasi-behaviourist extreme in his 
claim that the subject's ideas 'are his material actions inserted into material 
practices governed by material rituals which are themselves defined by the 
material ideological apparatus ... , . 32 One does not abolish consciousness 
simply by an hypnotic repetition of the word 'material'. Indeed in the wake 
of Althusser's work this term rapidly dwindled to the merest gesture, grossly 
inflated in meaning. If everything is 'material', even thought itself, then the 
word loses all discriminatory force. Althusser's insistence on the materiality 
of ideology - the fact that it is always a matter of concrete practices and 
institutions - is a valuable corrective to Georg Lukacs's largely disembodied 
'class consciousness'; but it also stems from a structuralist hostility to 
consciousness as such. It forgets that ideology is a matter of meaning, and 
that meaning is not material in the sense that bleeding or bellowing are. It is 
true that ideology is less a question of ideas than of feelings, images, gut 
reactions; but ideas often figure importantly within it, as is obvious enough 
in the 'theoretical ideologies' of Aquinas and Adam Smith. 

If the term 'material' suffers undue inflation at Althusser's hands, so also 
does the concept of ideology itself. It becomes, in effect, identical with lived 
experience; but whether all lived experience can usefully be described as 
ideological is surely dubious. Expanded in this way, the concept threatens to 
lose all precise political reference. If loving God is ideological, then so, 
presumably, is loving Gorgonzola. One of Althusser's most controversial 
claims - that ideology is 'eternal', and will exist even in communist society - 
then follows logically from this stretched sense of the word. For since there 
will be human subjects and lived experience under communism, there is 
bound to be ideology as welL Ideology, Althusser declares, has no history - a 
formulation adapted from The German Ideology, but harnessed to quite 
different ends. Though its contents are of course historically variable, its 
structural mechanisms remain constant In this sense, it is analogous to the 
Freudian unconscious: everyone dreams difFerendy, but the operations of the 
'dream work' remain constant from one time or place to another. It is hard 
to see how we could ever know that ideology is unchanging in its basic 
devices; but one telling piece of evidence against this claim is the fact that 
Althusser offers as a general theory of ideology what is arguably specific to 



the bourgeois epoch. The idea that our freedom and autonomy lie in a 
submission to the Law has its sources in Enlightenment Europe. In what 
sense an Athenian slave regarded himself as free, autonomous and uniquely 
individuated is a question Althusser leaves unanswered. If ideological 
subjects work 'all by themselves', then some would seem to do so rather 
more than others. 

Like the poor, then, ideology is always with us; indeed the scandal of 
Althusser's thesis for orthodox Marxism is that it will actually outlast them. 
Ideology is a structure essential to the life of all historical societies, which 
'secrete' it organically, and post-revolutionary societies would be no 
different in this respect. But there is a sliding in Althusser's thought here 
between three quite different views of why ideology is in business in the first 
place. The first of these, as we have seen, is essentially political: ideology 
exists to keep men and women in their appointed places in class society. So 
ideology in this sense would not linger on once classes had been abolished; 
but ideology in its more functionalist or sociological meaning clearly would. 
In a classless social order, ideology would carry on its task of adapting men 
and women to the exigencies of social life: it is 'indispensable in any society 
if men are to be formed, transformed and equipped to respond to the 
demands of their conditions of existence'. 33 Such a case, as we have seen, 
follows logically from this somewhat dubiously stretched sense of the term; 
but there is also another reason why ideology will persist in post-class 
society, which is not quite at one with this. Ideology will be necessary in such 
a future, as it is necessary now, because of the inevitable complexity and 
opaqueness of social processes. The hope that in communism such processes 
might become transparent to human consciousness is denounced by 
Althusser as a humanist error. The workings of the social order as a whole 
can be known only to theory; as far as the practical lives of individuals go, 
ideology is needed to provide them with a kind of imaginary 'map' of the 
social totality, so that they can find their way around it. These individuals 
may also of course have access to a scientific knowledge of the social forma- 
tion; but they cannot exercise this knowledge in the dust and heat of 
everyday life. 

This case, we may note, introduces a hitherto unexamined element into 
the debate over ideology. Ideology, so the argument goes, springs from a 
situation in which social life has become too complex to be grasped as a 
whole by everyday consciousness. There is thus the need for an imaginary 
model of it, which will bear something of the oversimplifying relation to 


From Adorno to Bourdieu 

social reality that a map does to an actual terrain. It is a case which goes back 
at least as far as Hegel, for whom ancient Greece was a society immediately 
transparent as a whole to all its members. In the modern period, however, 
the division of labour, the fragmentation of social life and the proliferation 
of specialized discourses have expelled us from that happy garden, so that 
the concealed connections of society can be known only to the dialectical 
reason of the philosopher. Society, in the terminology of the eighteenth 
century, has become 'sublime': it is an object which cannot be represented. For 
the people as a whole to get their bearings within it, it is essential to 
construct a myth which will translate theoretical knowledge into more 
graphic, immediate terms. 'We must have a new mythology', Hegel writes, 

but this mythology must be in the service of Ideas; it must be a mythology of 
Reason. Until we express the Ideas aesthetically, that is, mythologically, they 
have no interest for thepeople; and conversely, until mythology is rational the 
philosopher must be ashamed of it Thus in the end enlightened and unen- 
lightened must clasp hands: mythology must become philosophical in order 
to make people rational, and philosophy must become mythological in order 
to make the philosophers sensible. 3 * 

A somewhat parallel view of ideology can be found in the work of the 
anthropologist Clifford Geertz. In his essay 'Ideology a$ a Cultural System', 
Geertz argues that ideologies arise only when the traditional, pre-reflective 
rationales for a way have life have broken down, perhaps under the pressure 
of political dislocation No longer able to rely on a spontaneous feel for 
social reality, individuals in these new conditions need a 'symbolic map' or 
set of 'suasive images' to help them plot their way around society and orient 
them to purposive action. Ideology emerges, in other words, when political 
life becomes autonomous of mythic, religious or metaphysical sanctions, 
and must be charted in more explicit, systematic ways. 35 

Hegel's myth, then, is Althusser's ideology, at least in one of its versions. 
Ideology adapts individuals to their social functions by providing them with 
an imaginary model of the whole, suitably schematized and fictionalized for 
their purposes. Since this model is symbolic and affective rather than 
austerely cognitive, it can furnish motivations for action as some mere 
theoretical comprehension might not. Communist men and women of the 
future will require such an enabling fiction just like anyone else; but 
meanwhile, in class-society, it serves the additional function of helping to 



thwart true insight into the social system, thus reconciling individuals to 
their locations within it. The 'imaginary map' function of ideology, in other 
words, fulfils both a political and a sociological role in the present; once 
exploitation has been overcome, ideology will live on in its purely 'sociol- 
ogical' function, and mystification will yield to the mythical Ideology will 
still be in a certain sense false; but its falsity will no longer be in the service 
of dominant interests. 

I have suggested that ideology is not for Althusser a pejorative term; but 
this claim now requires some qualification. It would be more accurate to say 
that his texts are simply inconsistent on this score. There are times in his 
work when he speaks explicitly of ideology as false and illusory, pace those 
commentators who take him to have broken entirely with such epistemo- 
logical notions. 36 The imaginary mappings of ideological fictions are false 
from the standpoint of theoretical knowledge, in the sense that they actually 
get society wrong. So it is not here simply a question of se/f-misrecognition, 
as we saw in the case of the imaginary subject. On the other hand, this falsity 
is absolutely indispensable and performs a vital social function. So although 
ideology is false, it is not pejoratively so. We need only protest when such 
falsehood is harnessed to the purpose of reproducing exploitative social 
relations. There need be no implication that in post-revolutionary society 
ordinary men and women will not be equipped with a theoretical under- 
standing of the social totality; it is just that this understanding cannot be 
'lived', so that ideology is essential here too. At other rimes, however, 
Althusser writes as though terms like 'true' and 'false' are quite inapplicable 
to ideology, since it is no kind of knowledge at all. Ideology implicates 
subjects; but for Althusser knowledge is a 'subjectless' process, so ideology 
must by definition be non-cognitive. It is a matter of experience rather than 
insight; and in Althusser's eyes it would be an empiricist error to believe that 
experience could ever give birth to knowledge. Ideology is a subject-centred 
view of reality; and as far as theory is concerned, the whole perspective of 
subjectivity is bound to get things wrong, viewing what is in truth a centre- 
less world from some deceptively 'centred' standpoint But though ideology 
is thus false when viewed from the external vantage-point of theory, it is not 
false 'in itself - for this subjective slant on the world is a matter of lived 
relations rather than controvertible propositions. 

Another way of putting this point is to say that Althusser oscillates 
between a rationalist and a positivist view of ideology. For the rationalist mind, 
ideology signifies error, as opposed to the truth of science or reason; for the 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

positivist, only certain sorts of statements (scientific, empirical) are verifi- 
able, and others - moral prescriptions, for instance - are not even candidates 
for such truth/falsity judgements. Ideology is sometimes seen as wrong, and 
sometimes as not even prepositional enough to be wrong. When Althusser 
relegates ideology to the false 'other' of true knowledge, he speaks like a 
rationalist; when he dismisses the idea that (say) moral utterances are in any 
sense cognitive, he writes like a positivist A somewhat similar tension can be 
observed in the work of Emile Durkheim, for whose The Rules of Sociological 
Method ideology is simply an irrational obstruction to scientific knowledge, 
but whose The Elementary Forms of Religious Life views religion as an essential 
set of collective representations of social solidarity. 

Ideology for Althusser is one of three 'regions' or 'instances' - the other two 
are the economic and the political - which together make up a social 
formation. Each of these regions is relatively autonomous of the others; and 
in the case of ideology this allows Althusser to steer between an economism 
of ideology, which would reduce it to a reflex of material production, and an 
idealism of ideology, which would regard it as quite disconnected from 
social life. 

This insistence on a non-reductive account of ideology is characteristic of 
Western Marxism as a whole, in its sharp reaction to the economism of its 
late-nineteenth-century forebears; but it is also a position forced upon 
Marxist theory by the political history of the twentieth century. For it is 
impossible to understand a phenomenon like fascism without noting the 
extraordinarily high priority it assigns to ideological questions - a priority 
which could at times be at loggerheads with the political and economic 
requirements of the fascist system. At the height of the Nazi war effort, 
women were prohibited from factory work on ideological grounds; and the 
so-called 'final solution' disposed of many individuals whose skills might 
have been useful to the Nazis, as well as tying up manpower and resources 
which could have been deployed elsewhere. Later in the century, a similarly 
high priority is ascribed to ideology by a quite different political movement 
feminism. There seems no way in which the oppression of women can be 
merely deduced from the imperatives of material production, interwoven 
with such matters though it doubtless is. Throughout the 1970s, then, the 
appeal of Althusserianism had much to do with the space it appeared to 
open up for emergent political movements of a non-class kind. We shall see 
later that this valuable shift away from a reductive Marxism sometimes 



ended up in a dismissal of social class altogether. 

In his Political Power and Social Classes, the Althusserian theorist Nicos 
Poulantzas carries Althusser's distinction between social 'regions' into the 
field of ideology itself. Ideology can itself be discriminated into various 
'instances' - moral, political, juridical, religious, aesthetic, economic and so 
on; and in any given ideological formation one of these instances will 
typically be dominant, thus securing that formation's unity. In feudalism, for 
example, it is religious ideology which predominates, whereas in capitalism 
the jutidico-political instance comes to the fore. What 'level' of ideology is 
dominant will be determined primarily by which of them masks the realities 
of economic exploitation most effectively. 

A distinguishing feature of bourgeois ideology, Poulantzas argues, is the 
absence from its discourse of all trace of class domination. Feudal ideology, 
by contrast, is much more explicit about such class relations, but justifies 
them as naturally or religiously grounded. Bourgeois ideology, in other 
words, is that form of dominative discourse which would present itself as 
entirely innocent of power -just as the bourgeois state tends to offer itself as 
representing the general interests of society at large, rather than as an 
oppressive apparatus. In bourgeois ideology, Poulantzas holds, this 
dissembling of power takes a specific form: the concealment of political 
interests behind the mask of science. The end-of-ideology thinkers, who 
applauded the supposed transition from a 'metaphysical' to a 'technological' 
rationality, are thus simply endorsing what was endemic in bourgeois 
ideology all along. Such ideologies, so Poulantzas argues, are notable for 
their lack of appeal to the sacred or transcendental; instead they ask to be 
accepted as a body of scientific techniques. 

Among contemporary theorists, this view of bourgeois ideology as a 
radically 'this-worldly' discourse has gained considerable ground. For 
Raymond Boudon, ideologies are doctrines based on spurious scientific 
theories; they are, in a word, bad science. 37 Dick Howard argues that 
ideology is a matter of the 'immanent value-logic of capitalism': capitalism 
requires no transcendental legitimation, but is in some sense its own 
ideology. 38 Alvin Gouldner defines ideology as 'the mobilisation of the 
masses of public projects via the rhetoric of rational discourse', and sees it as 
striving to close the gap between private interests and the public good. 
'Ideology', Gouldner writes, 'thus entailed the emergence of a new mode of 
political discourse; discourse that sought action but did not merely seek it by 
invoking authority or tradition, or by emotive rhetoric alone. It was 


From Adomo to Bourdieu 

discourse predicted on the idea of grounding political action in secular and 
rational theory . . .' w Ideology in Gouldner's view thus involves a break with 
religious or mythological conceptions; and a similar case is urged by Claude 
Lefort, for whom ideology renounces all appeal to otherworldly values and 
seeks to conceal social divisions in secular terms alone. 40 Jiirgen Habermas 
claims that ideologies 'replace traditional legitimations of power by 
appearing in the mantle of modern science and by deriving their justifica- 
tion from the critique of ideology (in the sense of metaphysical systems)'. 41 
To this extent, there can be no pre-bourgeois ideology, ideology as a 
phenomenon is born with the bourgeois epoch, as an organic part of its 
secularizing, rationalizing tendencies. 

Suggestive though this case is, it is surely too one-sided. The dominant 
ideology in Britain today, for example, encompasses both 'rational' and 
traditionalist elements: appeals to technical efficiency on the one hand, the 
adulation of monarchy on the other. The most pragmatist, technocratic 
society in the world - the United States - is also one of the most full- 
bloodedly 'metaphysical' in its ideological values, solemnly invoking God, 
Freedom and Nation. The businessman justifies his activity at the office by 
'rational' criteria before returning to the sacred rituals of the family hearth. 
Indeed the more drearily utilitarian a dominant ideology is, the more refuge 
will be sought in compensatory rhetorics of a 'transcendental' kind. It is not 
uncommon for the best-selling author of pulp fiction to believe in the 
unfathomable mysteries of artistic creation. To see ideology simply as an 
alternative to myth and metaphysics is to miss an important contradiction in 
modern capitalist societies. For such societies still feel the need to legitimate 
their activities at the altar of transcendental values, not least religious ones, 
while steadily undermining the credibility of those doctrines by their own 
ruthlessly rationalizing practices. The 'base' of modern capitalism is thus to 
some extent at odds with its 'superstructure'. A social order for which truth 
means pragmatic calculation continues to cling to eternal verities; a form of 
life which in dominating Nature expels all mystery from the world still 
ritually invokes the sacred. 

It is hard to know what bourgeois society can do about this dissonance. If 
it were to renounce all metaphysical gestures, drawing its legitimation 
instead from its actual social behaviour, it would risk discrediting itself; but 
as long as it clings to transcendental meanings, the discrepancy between 
them and its everyday practice will be painfully evident. The dilemma is 
usually resolved by a sort of double think: when we hear talk of freedom, 



justice and the sacredness of the individual, we both believe and do not 
believe that such talk should make a difference to what we actually do. We 
hold fervently that such values are precious; we also believe that, as the man 
said, it is when religion starts to interfere with your everyday life that it is 
time to give it up. 

Althusser's thinking about ideology is on a fairly grand scale, revolving on 
such 'global' concepts as the Subject and ideological state apparatuses, 
whereas the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is more concerned to 
examine the mechanisms by which ideology takes hold in everyday life. To 
tackle this problem, Bourdieu develops in his Outline of a Theory of Practice 
(1977) the concept of habitus, by which he means the inculcation in men and 
women of a set of durable dispositions which generate particular practices. It 
is because individuals in society act in accordance with such internalized 
systems - what Bourdieu calls the 'cultural unconscious' - that we can 
explain how their actions can be objectively regulated and harmonized 
without being in any sense the result of conscious obedience to rules. 
Through these structured dispositions, human actions may be lent a unity 
and consistency without any reference to some conscious intention. In the 
very 'spontaneity' of our habitual behaviour, then, we reproduce certain 
deeply tacit norms and values; and habitus is thus the relay or transmission 
mechanism by which mental and social structures become incarnate in daily 
social activity. The habitus, rather like human language itself, is an open- 
ended system which enables individuals to cope with unforeseen, ever- 
changing situations; it is thus a 'strategy-generating principle' which permits 
ceaseless innovation, rather than a rigid blueprint. 

The term ideology is not particularly central to Bourdieu's work; but if 
habitus is relevant to the concept, it is because it tends to induce in social 
agents such aspirations and actions as are compatible with the objective 
requirements of their social circumstances. At its strongest, it rules out all 
other modes of desiring and behaving as simply unthinkable. Habitus is thus 
'history turned into nature', and for Bourdieu it is through this matching of 
the subjective and the objective, what we feel spontaneously disposed to do 
and what our social conditions demand of us, that power secures itself. A 
social order strives to naturalize its own arbitrariness through this dialectic 
of subjective aspirations and objective structures, defining each in terms of 
the other; so that the 'ideal' condition would be one in which the agents' 
consciousness would have the same limits as the objective system which 


From Adorno to Bourdieu 

gives rise to it The recognition of legitimacy, Bourdieu states, 'is the 
misrecognition of arbitrariness'. 

What Bourdieu calls doxa belongs to the kind of stable, tradition-bound 
social order in which power is fully naturalized and unquestionable, so that 
no social arrangement different from the present could even be imagined. 
Here, as it were, subject and object merge indistinguishably into each other. 
What matters in such societies is what 'goes without saying', which is 
determined by tradition; and tradition is always 'silent', not least about itself 
as tradition. Any challenge to such doxa is then heterodoxy, against which the 
given order must assert its claims in a new orthodoxy. Such orthodoxy differs 
from doxa in that the guardians of tradition, of what goes without saying, are 
now compelled to speak in their own defence, and thus implicitly to present 
themselves as simply one possible position, among others. 

Social life contains a number of different habitus, each system appro- 
priate to what Bourdieu terms a 'field'. A field, he argues in Questions de 
sociologie (1980), is a competitive system of social relations which functions 
according to its own internal logic, composed of institutions or individuals 
who are competing for the same stake. What is generally at stake in such 
fields is the attainment of maximum dominance within them - a dominance 
which allows those who achieve it to confer legitimacy on other participants, 
or to withdraw it from them. To achieve such dominance involves amassing 
the maximum amount of the particular kind of 'symbolic capital' appro- 
priate to the field; and for such power to become 'legitimate' it must cease to 
be recognized for what it is. A power which is tacitly rather than explicitly 
endorsed is one which has succeeded in legitimating itself. 

Any such social field is necessarily structured by a set of unspoken rules 
for what can be validly uttered or perceived within it; and these rules thus 
operate as a mode of what Bourdieu terms 'symbolic violence'. Since 
symbolic violence is legitimate, it generally goes unrecognized as violence. It 
is, Bourdieu remarks in Outline of a Theory of Practice, 'the gentle, invisible 
form of violence, which is never recognised as such, and is not so much 
undergone as chosen, the violence of credit, confidence, obligation, personal 
loyalty, hospitality, gifts, gratitude, piety. . . .' +2 In the field of education, for 
example, symbolic violence operates not so much by the teacher speaking 
'ideologically' to the students, but by the teacher being perceived as in 
possession of an amount of 'cultural capital' which the student needs to 
acquire. The educational system thus contributes to reproducing the 
dominant social order not so much by the viewpoints it fosters, but by this 



regulated distribution of cultural capital. As Bourdieu argues in Distinction 
(1979), a similar form of symbolic violence is at work in the whole field of 
culture, where those who lack the 'correct' taste are unobtrusively excluded, 
relegated to shame and silence. 'Symbolic violence' is thus Bourdieu's way of 
rethinking and elaborating the Gramscian concept of hegemony, and his 
work as a whole represents an original contribution to what one might call 
the 'microstructures' of ideology, complementing the more general notions 
of the Marxist tradition with empirically detailed accounts of ideology as 
'everyday life'. 


From Schopenhauer 

to S OREL 

FOR THE Enlightenment, as we saw earlier, the enemy of ideology was, 
paradoxically, ideology. Ideology in the sense of a science of ideas would 
combat ideology in the sense of dogma, prejudice and mindless tradition- 
alism. Behind this belief lay a supreme confidence in reason typical of the 
middle class in its 'progressive' phase: nature, society and even the human 
mind itself were now raw materials in its hands, to be analysed, mastered 
and reconstructed, 

As this confidence gradually wanes throughout the nineteenth century, 
with the emergence of a fully fledged industrial capitalist order about which 
there seemed little rational, a new current of thought comes to the fore. In a 
society where 'reason' has more to do with the calculation of self-interest 
than with some noble dream of emancipation, a scepticism about its lofty 
powers steadily gathers force. The harsh reality of this new social order 
would seem not reason, but appetite and interest; if reason has a role at all, it 
is the purely secondary one of estimating how the appetites can be most 
effectively gratified. Reason can help to promote our interests, but it is 
powerless to pass critical judgement on them. If it can Ventriloquize' the 
passions, it remains itself entirely mute. 

Such a standpoint had already been part of the familiar stock-in-trade of 
English empiricist philosophy, from Thomas Hobbes to David Hume. For 
Hume, reason can only ever be the slave of passion; and for this trend of 



thought in general the task of reason is to ascertain the nature of things as 
exactly as possible, so that we may the better realize our appetitive ends. But 
there is a latent tension between the two parts of this statement. For if 'man' 
is essentially a self-interested animal, will not these interests tend to distort 
his rational judgement? How can he be at once an impartial analyst of the 
world, and a partisan creature who views objects only in relation to his own 
needs and desires? To know what is rationally the case, I must so to speak 
remove myself and my prejudices from the scene of inquiry, behave as 
though I were not there; but such a proj ect can clearly never get off the ground. 

There is, in fact, a distinction between passions and interests, which 
Albert Hirschman has usefully examined. 1 For seventeenth- and eighteenth- 
century thought, to follow one's interests was on the whole positive, whereas 
to follow one's passions was not. 'Interests' suggested a degree of rational 
calculation, as opposed to being driven on by blind desire; it acts as a kind of 
intermediary category between the passions, which are generally base, and 
the reason, which is generally ineffectual. In the idea of 'interests', so 
Hirschman argues, the passions are upgraded by reason, while reason is lent 
force and direction by passion. Once the sordid passion of greed can be 
transmuted to the social interest of making money, it can suddenly be 
acclaimed as a noble goal. There was always of course the risk that this 
opposition could be deconstructed - that 'promoting one's interests' just 
meant counterposing one set of passions to another; but 'interest' had the 
sense of a rational self-love about it, and was seen as conveniently predictable, 
whereas desire was not. 'As the physical world is ruled by the laws of 
movement', proclaimed Helvetius, 'so is the moral universe ruled by laws of 
interest'; 2 and we shall see that it is only a short step from this classic 
bourgeois doctrine to the assumptions of postmodernism. 

It is an easy step from holding that reason is simply a neutral instrument 
of the passions, to claiming that it is a mere reflex of them. What if the 
supposed antithesis between reason and interests could be deconstructed, 
and reason be grasped simply as a modality of desire? What if this most 
elevated of the human faculties, which traditionally brings us within the 
orbit of divinity, were in reality just a disguised form of malice, longing, 
loathing, aggression? If this is so, then reason ceases to be the opposite of 
ideology, and becomes itself ideological through and through. It is 
ideological, moreover, in two senses of the word: first, because it is no more 
than an expression of interests; secondly, because it dissembles these interests 
behind a mask of impartiality. 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

A logical consequence of this view of things is that we can no longer 
speak of false consciousness. For now all consciousness is inherently false; 
whoever says 'consciousness' says distortion, delusion, estrangement. It is not 
that our perception of the world is sometimes clouded by passing prejudices, 
false social interests, pragmatic constraints or the mystifying effects of an 
opaque social structure. To be conscious just is to be deceived. The mind 
itself is chronically distorting: it is simply a fact about it that it travesties and 
disfigures reality, squints at the world sideways, grasps it from the falsifying 
perspective of some egoistic desire. The Fall is a fall up into consciousness, 
not one down to the beasts. Consciousness is just an accidental by-product 
of the evolutionary process, and its coming was never prepared for. The 
human animal is alienated from the world just because it can thinV, which 
puts it at a disabling distance from a mindless nature and opens up an 
unspannable abyss between subject and object Reality is inhospitable to the 
mind, and is ultimately opaque to it If we can speak any longer of 'ideology' 
at all, it must be in the manner of Francis Bacon's Novum Organum, which 
argues that some of the 'idols' or false notions which mystify humanity have 
their roots deep in the mind itself. 

In the transition from Hegel to Arthur Schopenhauer, we can observe this 
dramatic shift of perspective taking place. Hegel's philosophy represents a 
last-ditch, eleventh-hour attempt to redeem the world for Reason, setting its 
face sternly against all mere intuitionism; but what in Hegel is the principle 
or Idea of Reason, unfurling its stately progress through history, has become 
in Schopenhauer the blind, voracious Will - the empty, insatiable hankering 
which lies at the core of all phenomena. The intellect for Schopenhauer is 
just a crude, blundering servant of this implacable force, twisted out of true 
by it an inherently misrepresenting faculty which believes itself pathetically 
to present things as they really are. What for Marx and Engels is a specific 
social condition, in which ideas obscure the true nature of things, is in 
Schopenhauer generalized to the structure of the mind as suck And from a 
Marxist standpoint nothing could be more ideological than this view that 
all thought is ideological. It is as though Schopenhauer in The World as Will 
and Representation (1819) does just what he describes the intellect as doing: 
offering as an objective truth about reality what is in fact the partisan 
perspective of a society governed increasingly by interest and appetite. The 
greed, malice and aggressiveness of the bourgeois market place are now 
simply the way it is with humanity, mystified to a metaphysical Will 

Schopenhauer stands at the fountainhead of a long tradition of irrationalist 



thought for which concepts are always ineffectual and approximate, 
incapable of capturing the ineffable quality of lived experience. The intellect 
carves up the complexity of that experience into arbitrary chunks, freezing 
its fluidity into static categories. Such speculations are rife in Romanticism, 
pass into the 'vitalist' thought of Henri Bergson and D.H. Lawrence, and can 
even be glimpsed in the post-structuralist opposition between 'metaphysical 
closure' and the unthinkable play of difference. All thought is thus a form of 
alienation, distancing reality in the very act of trying to seize it, Concepts are 
just pale reflections of the reab but to see concepts as 'reflections' at all is 
surely very strange. To have a concept is simply to be able to use a word in a 
particular way, it is not to be regretted that the word 'coffee' lacks the grainy 
texture and rich aroma of the actual thing. There is no 'nameless gap' here 
between the mind and the world. Having a concept is no more like having 
an experience than throwing a tantrum is like throwing a party. It is only 
because we are tempted to think of concepts in empiricist style as 'images' or 
'offprints' of the world that we begin to fret about the eternal rift between 
the two. 

The Will for Schopenhauer is quite futile and purposeless, but shields us 
from a knowledge of its own utter pointlessness by breeding in us a delusion 
known as the intellect. The intellect obtusely believes life to be meaningful, 
which is just a cunning ruse on the Will's part to keep on perpetuating itself. 
It is as though the Will takes pity on our hunger for significance and throws 
us just enough to be going on with. Like capitalism for Marx, or like the 
unconscious for Freud, the Schopenhauerian Will includes its own 
dissemblance within itself, known to a gullible humanity as reasoa Such 
reason is just a superficial rationalizing of our desires, but believes itself to be 
sublimely disinterested. For Immanuel Kant, the world revealed to us by 
'pure' (or theoretical) reason is just an assemblage of mechanistic causal 
processes, as opposed to the realm of 'practical' reason, or morality, where we 
know ourselves to be free, purposive agents. But it is difficult for us to 
subsist comfortably in this duality, so Kant looks to aesthetic experience as a 
way of bridging it. In the act of aesthetic judgement, a piece of the external 
world momentarily appears to have some kind of purposive point to it, thus 
assuaging our rage for meaning. 3 

The antithesis in Schopenhauer between intellect and will is a version of 
the later vexed opposition between theory and ideology. If theory informs us 
that reality lacks all immanent significance, then we can only act purpose- 
fully by suppressing this gloomy knowledge, which is one meaning of 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

'ideology'. All action, as we have seen with Nietzsche and Althusser, is thus a 
sort of fiction. If for Althusser we cannot act and theorize simultaneously, 
for Schopenhauer we have a problem even in walking and talking at the 
same time. Meaning depends on a certain oblivion of our true condition, 
and has its roots sunk deeply in non-meaning. To act is to lose the truth at 
the very point of trying to realize it. Theory and practice, intellect and will, 
can never harmoniously coincide; and Schopenhauer must therefore 
presumably hope that nobody who reads his philosophy will be in the least 
affected by it, since this would be exactly the kind of instance of theory 
transforming our interests which he is out to deny. 

There is another paradox about Schopenhauer's writing, which it is worth 
touching upon briefly. Is that writing the product of the intellect or the will, 
of 'theory' or 'ideology'? If it is a product of the Will, then it is just one more 
expression of that Will's eternal pointlessness, with no more truth or 
meaning than a rumbling of the gut. But it cannot be a work of the intellect 
either, for the intellect is hopelessly estranged from the true nature of things. 
The question, in other words, is whether the claim that reason is inherently 
falsifying is not a species of performative contradiction, denying itself in the 
very act of assertion. And this is one of the many vexed issues which 
Schopenhauer will bequeath to his more celebrated successor, Friedrich 

The reality of tilings for Nietzsche is not Will but power; but this leaves 
reason in much the same situation as it was with Schopenhauer. Reason for 
Nietzsche is just the way we provisionally carve up the world so that our 
powers may best flourish; it is a tool or servant of those powers, a kind of 
specialized function of our biological drives. As such, it can no more submit 
those drives to critical scrutiny than can the Schopenhauerian intellect take 
the measure of the Will which propels it. Theory cannot reflect critically on 
the interests of which it is the expression. 'A critique of the faculty of 
knowledge', Nietzsche proclaims, 'is senseless: how should a tool be able to 
criticise itself when it can only use itself for the critique?' 4 The fact that 
Nietzsche's own philosophy would appear to do just that is one of the several 
paradoxes he presents us with. 

The mind, then, is just an editing and organizing of the world for certain 
pragmatic ends, and its ideas have no more objective validity than that. All 
reasoning is a form of false consciousness, and every proposition we utter is 
without exception untrue. (Untrue to what, and in contrast with what, are 



tricky logical problems raised by Nietzsche's work.) Our thought moves 
within a largely unconscious framework of needs, interests and desires 
founded in the kind of material animals we are, and our truth claims are 
entirely relative to this context The whole of our knowledge, as the 
philosopher Martin Heidegger will later argue, goes on within some 
practical, pre-reflective orientation to the world; we come to self-conscious- 
ness as beings already prejudiced, engaged, interested. Indeed the word 
'interested' means literally 'existing in the midst of*; and nobody can exist 
anywhere else. For Nietzsche and Heidegger as for Marx, we are practical 
beings before we are theoretical ones; and in Nietzsche's view the notion of 
intellectual disinterestedness is itself just a concealed form of interest, an 
expression of the rancorous malice of those too craven to live dangerously. 
All thought is 'ideological' to the core, the outward mark of struggle, viol- 
ence, dominion, the clash of competing interests; and science and philos- 
ophy are no more than crafty devices by which thought covers over its own 
unsavoury sources. Like Marx, Nietzsche is out to bring down reason's cred- 
ulous trust in its own autonomy, scandalously unmasking the blood and toil 
in which all noble notions are born, the baseness and enmity at the root of 
our most edifying conceptions. 

If reason is a kind of delusion, however, it is a necessary one - for without 
its deceptive reductions and simplifications we would never be able to 
survive. It is not true in Nietzsche's view that there is a truck bearing down 
on me at sixty miles per hour. For one thing, discrete objects such as trucks 
are just convenient fictions, ephemeral spin-offs of the ubiquitous will to 
power of which all apparently solid, separate substances are secretly 
composed. For another thing, the words T or 'me' are equally spurious, 
fashioning a deceptively ongoing identity out of a bundle of centreless 
powers, appetites and actions. 'Sixty miles per hour' is just an arbitrary way 
of chopping up space and time into manageable chunks, with no ontological 
solidity whatsoever. 'Bearing down' is a bit of linguistic interpretation, 
wholly relative to the way the human organism and its perceptions have 
historically evolved. Even so, Nietzsche would not be cruel or cavalier 
enough to suggest that I shouldn't bother leaping out of the way. Since it is 
unlikely that I shall be around much longer if I give too much thought to 
these abstruse matters while the truck is thundering up, the statement is true 
in the pragmatic sense that it serves my survival and well-being. 

The concept of ideology, then, is everywhere at work in Nietzsche's 
writings, even if the word itself is not; and it is operative in two different 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

senses. The first is the one we have just seen - the view that ideas are simply 
deceptive rationalizations of passions and interests. There are analogies to 
this, as we have noted, in the Marxist tradition, at least as far as particular 
ideas are concerned. Nietzsche universalizes to thought as such what for 
Marxism is true of specific forms of social consciousness. But the alternative 
meaning of ideology in Nietzsche also finds some warrant in Marxist theory, 
and this is the conception of it as 'otherworldliness'. Ideology in this sense 
in Nietzsche's philosophy is that static, dehistoricized realm of metaphysical 
values ('soul', 'truth', 'essence', 'reality' and the rest) which offers a false 
consolation for those too abject and unmanly to embrace the will to power - 
to accept that struggle, disunity, contradiction, domination and ceaseless 
flux are really all there is. Ideology in this sense is equivalent to metaphysics 
- to the spuriously eternal verities of science, religion and philosophy, refuge 
of the ' nihili sts' who spurn the joy and terror of endless becoming. The true 
world (of metaphysics)', Nietzsche comments, using the word 'true' sardon- 
ically, 'has been erected on a contradiction of the real world'; 5 and his 
thought is here strikingly close to The German Ideology. In the teeth of such 
anodyne otherworldliness, Nietzsche speaks up instead for 'life': 'life itself 
is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; 
suppression, hardness, imposition of one's own forms, incorporation, and at 
least, at its mildest, exploitation. . . .** 'Life', in other words, bears an uncanny 
resemblance to the capitalist market place, of which Nietzsche's own 
philosophy, among other things, is an ideological rationalization. 

The belief that all thought is ideological, a mere rationalizing expression of 
interests and desires, springs from a social order in which a conflict between 
sectoral interests is uppermost It is thus, one might claim, an ideology all of 
its own. If this is obvious enough in the case of Thomas Hobbes, it is rather 
less so in the apparendy 'radical' version of this case promoted by much 
postmodernist theory, which is deeply in debt to the work of Nietzsche. That 
case, put in slighdy parodic form, runs somewhat as follows. There is no 
such thing as truth; everything is a matter of rhetoric and power; all 
viewpoints are relative; talk of 'facts' or 'objectivity' is merely a specious 
front for the promotion of specific interests. The case is usually coupled 
with a vague opposition to the present political set-up, linked to an intense 
pessimism about the hope for any alternative. In its radical American form, 
it occasionally goes along with the belief that anything, including life in a 
Siberian salt-mine, is probably preferable to the current American way of 



life. Those who expound it will tend to be interested in feminism and 
'ethnicity' but not in socialism, and to use terms like 'difference', 'plurality* 
and 'marginalization , but not 'class struggle' or 'exploitation'. 

That there is something in this position is surely clear. We have seen too 
much of the shifty self-interestedness of the 'disinterested' to be much 
impressed by it; and we are generally right to suspect that appeals to see the 
object as it really is can be decoded as invitations to see it as our rulers do. 
One of the ideological victories of the liberal tradition has been to equate 
objectivity with disinterestedness, forging a powerful internal bond between 
the two. We can only get the world straight if we absolve ourselves of 
particular interests and predilections, viewing it as it would appear if we 
were not there. Some of those properly sceptical of this fantasy have then 
thrown out the baby of objectivity with the bathwater of disinterestedness; 
but this is simply because they have been gullibly convinced that the only 
viable meaning of 'objectivity' is the one pedalled by this Arnoldian heritage. 
There is no reason to grant this tradition such implicit credence: the term 
'objectivity' has some perfectly workable meanings, as anyone who tried to 
give it up for six months would quickly discover. The author of The Drowned 
and the Saved, a memoir of the Nazi concentration camps, writes in his 
preface that he will try to discuss the subject with as much objectivity as he 
can muster. The author is Primo Levi, supremely non-disinterested victim of 
Auschwitz; and if Levi wishes to find out what really went on in the camps, 
it is because he is concerned to prevent them from happening again. 
Without needs and interests of some kind, we would see no point in getting 
to know anything in the first place. Capitalist society is a battleground of 
competing interests, and cloaks this incessant violence in the guise of 
disinterested ideas. Those postmodernists who quite properly see through 
this illusion often enough end up pitting against it a 'radical' version of the 
very market-place behaviour it conceals. In espousing a rich plurality of 
contending viewpoints and idioms as a good in itself, they turn an idealized 
version of that market-place reality against the monistic certitudes which 
help to hold it in place, thus seeking to undermine one part of capitalist 
logic with another. It is then no wonder that their 'radical' politics are a little 
strained and bleak, or at the worst (one thinks of Jean Baudrillard and Jean- 
Frangois Lyotard) entirely vacuous. 

The claim that the whole of our thought moves within the frame of 
certain practical, 'primordial', pre-reflective interests is surely just. But the 
concept of ideology has traditionally meant a good deal more than this. It is 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

not just out to affirm that ideas are inscribed by interests; it draws attention 
to the ways in which specific ideas help to legitimate unjust and unnecessary 
forms of political domination. Statements like It's just coming up to three 
o'clock' are certainly traced through with social interests, but whether they 
are 'ideological' or not depends on their functioning within particular 
power-structures. The postmodernist move of expanding the concept of 
interests to encompass the whole of social life, while valid enough in itself, 
then serves to displace attention from these concrete political struggles, 
collapsing them into a neo-Nietzschean cosmos in which throwing off an 
overcoat is secretly just as much a matter of conflict and domination as 
overthrowing the state. If ail thought is 'interested' to its roots, then - so it 
can be argued - the kinds of power-struggles to which, say, socialists and 
feminists have traditionally drawn attention have no very special status. A 
'scandalous' vision of the whole of society as one restless will to power, one 
irresolvable turmoil of embattled perspectives, thus serves to consecrate the 
political status quo. 

What this move involves, in effect, is the conflating of two quite differ- 
ence senses of 'interest'. On the one hand, there are those 'deep' sorts of 
interest which structure our very form of life and provide the very matrix of 
our knowledge - the interest we have, for example, in viewing time as 
moving forwards rather than backwards or sideways, which we can hardly 
imagine ourselves out of. On the other hand there are interests like wanting 
to explode a small nuclear weapon over Fidel Castro's holiday villa, which 
we can quite easily imagine ourselves out of. The effect of running these two 
kinds of interests together is to 'naturalize' the latter by lending them 
something of the ineluctable status of the former. It is true that the mind 
cannot critically examine a sort of interest which is fundamentally constitu- 
tive of it - that this really would be a case of trying to haul ourselves up by 
our own bootstraps. It is not true, however, that an interest in blasting Fidel 
Castro into eternity cannot be submitted to rational critique; and the effect 
of the postmodernist expansion of 'interest', as in the work of Michel 
Foucault, is to elide this vital distinction. 

A prime instance of this gambit can be found in the work of the 
American neo-pragmatist Stanley Fish. Fish argues that the whole of our so- 
called knowledge comes down to belief; that these beliefs, at least while we 
are experiencing them, are ineluctable, in the sense that I cannot choose not 
to believe what I believe; and that 'theory', far from being capable of making 
a difference to our beliefs, is just a rhetorically persuasive style of articu- 



lating them. 7 It is not hard to recognize in this case traces of the 
Schopenhauerian relation between intellect and Will, or the Nietzschean 
priority of power over reason. But it is curious, for one thing, to claim that 
all knowledge is a question of belief. For the philosopher Ludwig 
Wittgenstein, it would make no sense to say that I believe that I have two 
hands, any more than it would make sense to say that I doubted it There is 
simply no context here, usually at least, in which the words 'belief* or 'doubt' 
could have force. If, however, I wake up after an operation in which there 
was a risk that one of my hands might be amputated, and the patient in the 
next bed is brutal enough to enquire whether I still have two hands, I might 
take a cautious peep under the bedclothes at these heavily bandaged objects 
and reply: 'I believe so'. Here there would be a context in which the term 
'belief* would have real force; but it is idle otherwise to think that this kind 
of knowledge involves 'believing' anything at all. 

By ranking all of our beliefs on the same level, as forces which grip us 
ineluctably, Fish takes up a reactionary political stance. For the effect of this 
drastic homogenizing of different modes and degrees of belief, as in the case 
of interests, is to naturalize beliefs such as 'Women should be treated as 
servants' to the status of 'beliefs' like: 'Vienna is the capital of Austria'. The 
superficially 'radical' appeal of the case is that the latter kind of proposition 
is no metaphysical truth but merely an institutional interpretation; its 
reactionary corollary is that the former sort of belief is made to appear quite 
as immune to rational reflection as the claim about Vienna. 

Fish has thus set the situation up to prove in advance his claim that 
theoretical reflection can make no whit of difference to what beliefs we 
actually have. For this claim is otherwise distinctly implausible, involving as 
it does an untenably strong denial of the ways in which critical thought 
quite commonly helps to modify or even transform our interests and desires. 
I may come to see that my current interests are in fact unreasonable, serving 
as they do to obstruct the more valid interests of others; and if I am feeling 
suitably heroic 1 may alter or abandon them accordingly. This may happen 
in particular if my attention is drawn to certain genetic or functional aspects 
of my beliefs - where they spring from, and what social effects they breed - 
of which I was previously ignorant. None of this, of course, is likely to occur 
if the model for all belief is something like 'Snow is white', and Fish's case is 
thus poindessly self-confirming. 

Perhaps the problem is that subjecting beliefs to rational critique would 
seem to demand occupying some 'transcendental' vantage-point beyond 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

them. Michel Foucault had little time for such chimeras; but this does not 
appear to have prevented him from holding that imprisoning homosexuals 
is not the most enlightened way of relating to them. The view that critical 
reflection entails locating oneself in some metaphysical outer space, 
sublimely absolved from all interests of one's own, is just a tedious bugbear 
with which those who wish for their own ideological reasons to deny the 
possibility of such reflection seek to rattle those who do not. And the 
assumption that without such a God's-eye view we are left with nothing but 
an array of partial perspectives, any one of which is as good as any other, is 
simply a kind of inverted metaphysics. Those who imagine that if truth is 
not absolute then there is no truth at all are simply closet transcendentalists, 
helplessly in thrall to the very case they reject As Richard Rorty has pointed 
out, absolutely nobody is a relativist, in the sense of believing that any view 
of a particular topic is as good as any other. 8 

Certainly Fish himself is not in this sense a relativist; but he does seem to 
think that critically examining one's beliefs involves catapulting oneself into 
outer space. It would mean that 

the individual who was constituted by historical and cultural forces [would 
have to] 'see through' these forces and thus stand to the side of his own 
convictions and beliefs. But that is the one thing a historically conditioned 
consciousness cannot do, conduct a rational examination of its own convic- 
tions ... it could only do that if it were not historically conditioned and were 
instead an acontextual or unsituated entity . . .* 

The self for Fish, as much as for the most shamelessly vulgar Marxism, is the 
helplessly determined product of history, a mere puppet of its social 
interests; and there is then nothing between such iron determinism on the 
one hand and a plainly vacuous transcendentalism on the other. We are 
either totally constrained by our social contexts, or not constrained at all In 
a typical postmodernist sleight of hand, all of our beliefs are made to appear 
as fundamentally constitutive of the self as the 'belief' that 1 have two hands, 
so that it follows as logically that reason is unable to round upon them as it 
does that the eye cannot see itself seeing something. But this is only because 
Fish's relentlessly monistic vision of things expels all contradiction from 
both self and world, terrified as it is of the slightest whiff of ambiguity or 
indeterminacy. Cultural contexts are assumed to be unitary, so that, say, a 
product of the white South African ruling class must inevitably endorse the 



doctrine of apartheid. But the South African social context is of course 
complex, ambiguous and self-contradictory, composed of precious liberal 
and radical traditions as well as of racist ones; and an upper-class white in 
those conditions may thus find the racist values 'naturally' bred in him at 
war with a critical stance towards them. Faced with this argument, Fish will 
take a smart step backwards and point out that the individual in question is 
then the determined product of this whole conflictive situation, unable to 
think himself outside his inexorably constraining political ambivalence; but 
this will not retrieve the fatal concession he has then made to a radical case. 
For a radical does not need to deny this in the least; he or she just wants to 
claim that we can submit interests and beliefs, whether our own or others, to 
critical scrutiny. There is no need to imply that this is done from outside the 
framework of any belief whatsoever. Perhaps further reflection will then 
lead the South African to be critical of his own ambivalence, and so come to 
oppose apartheid wholeheartedly. Fish's case fails because it grants far too 
much to the political left he is out to discredit. As long as we are able to 
bring down apartheid, we are really not terribly bothered about the fact that 
we can only accomplish this project from the standpoint of some belief 
system or other; in fact it never occurred to us to deny it. Fish wants to worst 
the political left in order to protect the American way of life; but rather than 
critically engage with the left's case, he tries in a hubristic gesture to 
undercut it completely by denying that emancipatory critique can ever get 
off the ground. But this is only because he has surreptitiously subsumed all 
interests and beliefs to the status of those which are indeed so utterly 
constitutive of the self, so fundamentally the grounds of its very historical 
possibility, that the case proves itself. It is as though my belief that Indian tea 
is more pleasant than Chinese - a belief I hold loosely, provisionally and 
indifferendy - is imbued with all the immutable force of the Kantian 

Unlike Fish, Marxism does not hold that the self is an impotent reflex of 
its historical conditions. On the contrary, what constitutes a human subject 
as a subject is precisely its ability to transform its own social determinants - 
to make something of that which makes it. Men and women, as Marx 
observed, make their own history on the basis of anterior conditions; and 
both parts of the statement, constituting and constituted, must be allowed 
equal weight. An historical being is one ceaselessly 'out ahead' of itself, 
radically 'excessive' and non-self-identical, able within certain definite 
constraints to pose its own existence as problematic. And it is exactly in this 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

structural gap or lag between the actual and the possible that emancipatory 
critique can take hold. For Fish, however, radicalism is an impossible 
enterprise; for either my critical observations on the current power-system 
are intelligible to that system, in which case they are simply one more move 
within it and thus not radical at all; or they are not, in which case they are so 
much irrelevant noise. Ironically, Fish is a sort of 'ultra-leftist' who believes 
that all 'true* radicalism is some unimaginable anarchism, some 'alternative 
universe' logic wholly at variance with the present, and he therefore suffers 
from what Lenin rebuked as an infantile disorder. But of course it is definitive 
of any effective radicalism that it engages with the terms of the given system, 
precisely in order to subvert it. If it did not, then there would be no question 
of subversion at all. Nobody can ever really disagree with Stanley Fish - for 
either he understands what you say, in which case you are not disagreeing 
with him at all; or he does not, in which case your views belong to some 
problematic wholly incommensurable with his own. And such incommen- 
surability rules out the possibility of both agreement and disagreement. 

What Fish's position at all costs must deny, in other words, is the notion 
of immanent critique. If he were to countenance for a moment what Karl 
Marx did to the bourgeois political economists, his case would fall instantly 
to the ground. For Marxism regards rationality neither as some ahistorical 
absolute, nor as the mere reflex of current powers and desires. Instead, it 
seeks to occupy the categories of bourgeois society from within, in order to 
highlight those points of internal conflict, indeterminacy and contradiction 
where its own logic might be led to surpass itself. It is just this strategy which 
Marx adopted with the bourgeois economists, with whom he most certainly 
shared a categorial logic; unless he and Adam Smith are both in some sense 
talking about capitalism, then there is no sense in which Marx's case consti- 
tutes a critique of Smith's. But only some rhetorical ultra-leftism could then 
imagine that Marx and Smith are much of a muchness, and the former is not 
'truly' radical at all. If this is the view of a Fish, it was certainly not the view 
of the bourgeois political economists, and neither is it the view of US Steel. 
Postmodern thought would seem to have fallen for the sterile antithesis that 
'reason' must either stand wholly on the inside of a form of life, guiltily 
complicit with it, or lurk at some illusory Archimedean point beyond it. But 
this is to assume that this form of life is not somehow inherendy contra- 
dictory, comprising at once beliefs and interests wholly 'internal' to it, and 
other forms of discourse and practice which run counter to its ruling logic. 
The much-vaunted 'pluralism' of postmodern theory is curiously monistic 



on this score. Radical political thought, in the best deconstructive manner, 
seeks to locate itself neither wholly inside nor wholly outside the given 
system, but, so to speak, in that system's very internal contradictions, in the 
places where it is non-identical with itself, in order to elaborate from them a 
political logic which might ultimately transform the power-structure as a 
whole. Marxism takes with the utmost seriousness bourgeois society's talk of 
freedom, justice and equality, and enquires vnxkfaux naivety why it is that 
these grandiloquent ideals can somehow never actually enter upon material 
existence. Fish, of course, will then remind us yet again that all this implies 
some vantage-point of belief, which we cannot occupy and not occupy 
simultaneously, but it is hard to know who exactly ever thought we could. 
The last thing Marxism has ever credited is the fantasy that truth is 
somehow unhistorical. 

It is worth adding that Fish's assumption that in order to criticize my 
beliefs and desires I must stand entirely to one side of them is a hangover 
from Kantian puritanism. For Kant, moral self-reflection or practical reason 
must be wholly independent of interest and inclination; for Aristotle, by 
contrast, a certain critical reflection of one's desire is actually a potential 
within it. Part of what is involved for Aristotle in living virtuously - living, 
that is to say, in the rich flourishing of one's creative powers - is to be 
motivated to reflect on precisely this process. To lack such self-awareness 
would be in Aristotle's view to fall short of true virtue, and so of true 
happiness or well-being. The virtues for Aristotle are organized states of 
desire; and some of these desires move us to curve back critically upon them. 
Aristode thus deconstructs Fish's rigorous antithesis of interests and critical 
thought - an antithesis which crops up in Fish's work as no more than a 
negative form of Kantianism. 

It is clear enough, then, what a 'radical' pragmatism or neo-Nietzschean- 
ism finally comes down to. It comes down to a shamefaced apologia for the 
Western way of life, more rhetorically suasive than some explicitly redneck 
propaganda on behalf of the Pentagon. We begin with a proper dismissal of 
disinterestedness, a suspicion of objectivity and an apparently hard-nosed 
insistence on the realities of incessant conflict, and end up playing 
obediently into the hands of Henry Kissinger. In some such styles of 
thinking, a transcendentalism of truth is merely ousted by a transcendentalism 
of interests. Interests and desires are just 'givens', the baseline which our 
theorizing can never glimpse behind; they go, so to speak, all the way down, 
and we can no more inquire where they actually come from than we could 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

usefully ask the Enlightenment ideologues about the sources of their own 
Olympian rationality. In this sense, very little has changed from the days of 
Thomas Hobbes, even if such a standpoint is now commonly associated with 
political dissent rather than with supporting the absolutist state. Marxism, by 
contrast, has one or two things to say about the conditions which actually 
generate our social interests - and says it in a highly 'interested' way. 

What is projected by postmodernism as a universally valid relation 
between knowledge and interests is in fact fairly specific to the bourgeois 
epoch. For Aristotle, as we have seen, the reflective decision to fulfil a desire 
is part of that desire itself; and our desires can thus become reasons for action. 
We can speak in this sense of 'mindful desire' or 'desiring mind', in contrast 
with a later thinker like Kant, for whom our desires and moral decisions 
must be kept rigorously separate. 10 Once a desire has become a reason for 
action, however, it ceases to remain identical with itself; it is no longer 
simply some blind unquestionable cause, but enters into our discourse and 
undergoes significant transformation. For some postmodernism, however, 
interests and desires would appear to be curiously self-identical; it is 
Aristotle who emerges in this light as more deconstructive than the 
deconstructionists. Those who regard reason as no more than the instrument 
of interests, in a time-hallowed bourgeois tradition, sometimes seem to 
assume that it is self-evident what exactly our interests are. The problem is 
promoting them, not defining them. A strange new kind of positivism thus 
comes to birth, for which it is now desires and interests, no longer brute 
sense-data, which can be taken as obvious. But we do not of course always 
spontaneously know what is in our best interests, since we are not 
transparent to ourselves. Reason is not only a way of pragmatically 
promoting our desires, but of working out what desires we actually have, 
and how valid, enhancing and productive they are in relation to the desires 
of others. It is in this sense that the classical concept of reason is intimately 
tied to the concept of social justice. We have an interest, as Kant remarked, 
in reason - an interest in clarifying our real interests. And this is another 
sense in which reason and passion are not simply to be counterposed as 

Reason is commonly thought to be on the side of disinterestedness and 
totality, seeing life steadily and seeing it whole. Remove this faculty, and all 
we appear to be left with is a clash of sectoral standpoints, no one of which 
can be judged more valid than another. We have noted already that such 
relativism is no more than a will o' the wisp: nobody in fact believes it for a 



moment, as an hour's casual observation of their behaviour will readily 
attest. But the idea persists that reason is a global affair of seeing things 
dispassionately in the round, whereas interests are stubbornly local and 
particular. Either we are so deeply 'in the midst' of things, embroiled in this 
or that specific preoccupation, that we could never hope to grasp our situa- 
tion as a whole; or we can strive to judge this maelstrom of partial view- 
points from the outside, only to discover that we are standing in empty 
space. This, in effect, is the double bind genially offered us by a whole array 
of contemporary theorists (Hans-Georg Gadamer and Richard Rorty may 
serve as suitably diverse instances), who place under prohibition any attempt 
to launch a critique of a whole way of life." (Whether this case follows from 
a cogent or tendentious reading of the later Wittgenstein is a controversial 
issue; certainly the later Wittgenstein greeted the whole form of life known 
as Great Britain with undisguised disapproval.) Once again, an apparently 
radical case veers on its axis here into a covertly conservative one: a 
'materialist' stress on the rootedness of our ideas in practical interests, 
offensive to a social order which considers thought to be nobly neutral, is 
also a grim caveat that any attempt to grasp society as a totality involves a 
chimerical transcendentalism. Both emphases follow logically enough from 
a Nietzschean reading of the world. 

We have seen already something of the radical riposte to this position. It 
is not as though there are some theorists who find themselves spontaneously 
thinking in grandly global terms, while other more modest, less megalo- 
maniac commentators prefer to stick to the irreducibly plural and concretely 
particular. It is rather that there are certain kinds of concretely particular 
social interests which could not hope to realize their ends without passing 
over at some point into a critical inquiry into the structure of society as a 
whole. To forestall this alarming possibility you have simply to argue, like 
Margaret Thatcher or Ernesto Laclau, that 'society as a whole' does not exist 
It is not that such stubbornly particular interests 'leave themselves behind', 
so to speak, in this shift to a more global analysis, abandoning their own 
partisan perspectives for some grandly disinterested view. It is rather that 
without such more structural theorizing they cannot even be in effective 
possession of themselves. Some more general kind of critique is constrained 
by the very logic of these specific concerns. Thus it is that an oppressed 
group or class - women, the proletariat, ethnic minorities, colonized peoples 
and the rest - may come to recognize that without grasping something of 
their own material location within a wider system, they will never be effect- 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

ively able to realize their highly specific interest in emancipation. Most 
Western theorists who deny or fail to see this point are located in material 
situations known as Western universities, where there is no compelling 
reason, much of the time at least, to bother one's head about such rebarba- 
tive abstractions or 'terroristic totalities' as imperialism. Others are not quite 
so lucky. In this sense it is false to counterpose local interests to global 
totality; any theory of the latter is quite as 'interested' as a campaign to 
relocate an airport. To speak simply of a 'plurality of interests', ranging from 
black inner-city populations to model aircraft buffs, then merely obscures 
this crucial point. 

If there are no rational grounds on which to adjudicate between 
competing social interests, then the condition we are left with is a violent 
one. Either I just have to fight you for my position, or I deploy that more 
subtle form of domination, enthusiastically urged by Fish, which is 
sophistical rhetoric. This vision of embattled viewpoints slogging it out, each 
striving to linguistically outdo the other, is very masculinist. It is also 
politically obtuse: for the fact is that, under capitalist conditions, no universal 
engagement of opposed positions can even get off the ground. It is possible 
to see a radical interest as just one among many in the theoretical market- 
place; but though this is true enough in one sense, it is misleading in 
another. For the 'interest' of the radical is just to bring about the kind of 
social conditions in which all men and women could genuinely participate 
in the formulation of meanings and values, without exclusion or domina- 
tion. The liberal pluralist is not wrong in seeing such an open dialogue of 
differences as a desirable goal; he or she is just mystified to think that it 
could ever be adequately conducted in a class-divided society, where what 
counts as an acceptable interest in the first place is determined by the ruling 
power. Such participatory, socialist democratic institutions could be created 
only once such a power has been overthrown, and along with it the species 
of sophistical 'mental violence' espoused by a Stanley Fish. As to what 
meanings and values might result from this comradely encounter of differ- 
ences, the radical has absolutely nothing to say, since his or her whole poli- 
tical commitment is exhausted in the effort to bring about its historical 
conditions of possibility. 

The most illustrious inheritor of the tradition of Schopenhauer and 
Nietzsche is Sigmund Freud. Like his precursors. Freud is out to demon- 
strate the fitfulness and fragility of reason, its dependence upon some 



more fundamental set of forces. The place radically 'other' to reason which 
Schopenhauer names Will is for Freud the unconscious; but the unconscious 
can be seen just as well as a deconstruction of the opposition between reason 
and instinct, rather as Nietzsche sometimes sees the intellect as a faculty 
internal to the will to power. The rational ego is a kind of organ or 
outcropping of the unconscious, that piece of it which is turned to the 
external world; and in this sense our ideas have their complex roots in the 
bodily drives. Indeed the impulse to knowledge is itself for Freud secretly 
libidinal, a sublimated form of sexual curiosity to which he gives the name 
'epistemophilia'. To know, for Freud as for Nietzsche, is inseparable from the 
will to dominate and possess. The very distinction between knowing subject 
and knowable object, the ground of all epistemology, has its basis in our 
infantile life: under the sway of the so-called pleasure principle, the small 
infant expels certain objects from itself in fantastic form, thus constituting 
an external world, and 'introjects* certain others to form the basis of an ego. 
All of our later knowledge will be carried on within the frame of these more 
primary attachments and aversions: our ideas move within the context of 
desire, and there is no thought or perception without its admixture of 
unconscious fantasy. For Freud, all cognition contains miscognition, all 
illumination is overshadowed by a certain blindness. Wherever we uncover 
meaning, then we can be sure to find non-meaning at its root. 

Seen in this light, Freud's writings are faithful to the central contention of 
the tradition we are examining - that the mind itself is constituted by a 
chronic distortion or alienation, and that 'ideology' is thus its natural habitat 
False consciousness is no accident which afflicts the intellect in the form of 
passing prejudice; it is not the result of mystification or false social interests. 
On the contrary, it was there from the very beginning, lodged deep within 
the structure of our perceptions. Desire infiltrates our routine projects, 
causing them to swerve, falter, miss the mark False consciousness is thus less 
some specific body of belief than, in Freud's own phrase, the 'psycho- 
pathology of everyday life'. 

In this sense, we might say that Freud's theory of ideology (though the 
term itself is hardly present in his work) is of an Althusserian cast. Indeed we 
have seen already that it is from Freud himself, via the detour of Lacan, that 
Althusser derives his notion of ideology as 'lived relations', which exist 
largely at the level of the unconscious and involve an inescapable structure 
of miscognition. Just as in Althusser's thought the subject of ideology exists 
only through ignorance of its true conditions, so the paradox of Freud, as we 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

have seen, is that the subject comes into being only on the basis of a massive 
repression of its own unconscious determinants. Oblivion is thus our 
'natural' mode, and remembering is simply forgetting to forget The ground 
of all our insight, then, is some primordial opaqueness to ourselves: the 
unconscious produces the ego, but must necessarily be absent from it if the 
ego is to function effectively. Much the same can be said in Althusser's case 
about the relations between subject and society, where the latter operates as 
the 'absent cause' of the former. And this, on the surface at least, is exceed- 
ingly gloomy news. If our knowledge is just a function of our self-opacity, 
how can we hope to achieve the kinds of insights which might set us free? 
How can there be a 'truth of the subject', if the subject loses itself in the very 
act of emerging into being? 

We can put the problem in different terms. Psychoanalysis is a discourse 
which strives to engage reflectively with the arational; and as such it suggests 
that ultimate impossibility of all 'ideology critique'. For to the extent to 
which such a discourse is 'rational', it opens up a disabling gap between itself 
and its object; and to the extent to which it simply reproduces the language 
of desire, it would seem to forfeit all claims to uncovering its hidden mechan- 
isms. The critique of ideology will always be dogged by this impasse or aporia, 
in which to 'understand' the slippery signifiers it examines is to be in that 
instant eluded by them. The Freud who doubted that there was ever any 
getting to the bottom of a dream, who pointed to the role of the analyst's 
own desires ('countertransference'), and who came in later life to speculate 
that the theoretical constructs of the analyst were perhaps as much 
convenient fictions as the fantasies of the patient, appears to have been 
conscious enough of the baffling nature of his own enterprise. But there is 
also another Freud, whose trust in the ultimate efficacy of reason runs 
somewhat counter to this scepticism. To put the matter in Marxist terms: if 
Freud is 'Althusserian' in his awareness of the chronic miscognitions of 
everyday life, he also shares something of the Enlightenment view of such 
false consciousness of the early Marx and Engels. And the exemplary 
Freudian text for this 'enlightened' critique of ideology is his late enquiry 
into religion, The Future of an Illusion. 

Religion, in Freud's opinion, fulfils the role of reconciling men and 
women to the instinctual renunciations which civilization forces upon them. 
In compensating them for such sacrifices, it imbues an otherwise harsh, 
purposeless world with meaning. It is thus, one might claim, the very 
paradigm of ideology, providing an imaginary resolution of real contra- 



dictions; and were it not to do so, individuals might well rebel against a form 
of civilization which exacts so much from them. In The Future of an Illusion, 
Freud contemplates the possibility that religion is thus a socially necessary 
myth, an indispensable means of containing political disaffection; but he 
considers this possibility only to reject it. In the most honourable Enlighten- 
ment tradition, and despite all his elitist fear of the insensate masses, Freud 
cannot bring himself to accept that mystification must be an eternal condi- 
tion of humanity. The idea that a minority of philosophers like himself may 
acknowledge the unvarnished truth, while the mass of men and women 
must continue to be the dupes of illusion, is offensive to his rational 
humanism. Whatever good historical purpose religion may have served in 
the 'primitive' evolution of the race, the time has now come to replace this 
myth with the 'rational operation of the intellect', or with what Freud terms 
'education in reality'. Like Gramsci, he holds that the secularized, demy- 
thologized world view which has so far been largely the monopoly of the 
intellectuals must be disseminated as the 'common sense' of humanity as a 

To dismiss this hope as the dream of some dewy-eyed rationalist would 
be to evade the courage and challenge of Freud's text. For no modem thinker 
is more bleakly aware of the extreme precariousness of human reason - of 
the grim truth, as he comments in this work, that 'arguments are of no avail 
against (human) passions', and that 'even in present-day man purely reason- 
able motives can effect litde against passionate impulsions'. 12 For all his wary 
scepticism of the claims of reason, however, Freud has the imagination to ask 
himself whether unreason must always inevitably reign. The intellect, he 
remarks, may be powerless in comparison with the instinctual life; but 
though its voice is a 'soft' one, it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. 
The primacy of the intellect', he writes, 'lies, it is true, in a distant future, 
but probably not in an infinitely distant one' (238). Nothing, he claims, can in 
the long run withstand reason and experience, and the affront which 
religion offers to both is all too palpable. In the teeth of bis own conservative 
alarm at the smoulderingly rebellious masses, Freud remains loyal to the 
democratic kernel of a mystified Enlightenment rationality. There is no doubt, 
in this work at least, as to whether it is such rationality, or a sceptical view of 
it, which is on the side of political progressivism. 

Religion for Freud is a sublimation of our lowly drives to higher spiritual 
ends; but so in fact is 'culture' or civilization as a whole. 'Having recognised 
religious doctrines as illusions', he writes, 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

we are at once faced by a further question: may not other cultural assets of 
which we hold a high opinion and by which we let our lives be ruled be of a 
similar nature? Must not the assumptions that determine our political regul- 
ations be called illusions as well? and is it not the case that in our civilisation 
the relations between the sexes are disturbed by an erotic illusion or a 
number of such illusions? (216) 

Once one embarks on this line of thought, where will it end? Could it not, 
Freud muses, extend to reasoning and observation themselves? What if 
science itself were just another such sublimation? And what of the science 
known as Freudian psychoanalysis? The concept of sublimation is clearly 
getting out of hand, and Freud no sooner raises these embarrassing questions 
than he closes them peremptorily off. Lacking the means for undertaking so 
comprehensive a task, he modestly informs us, he will concentrate instead 
on the topic in hand. 

Freud closes down the discussion, in short, just before it manoeuvres him 
into his own version of the Marxist doctrine of base and superstructure. In 
orthodox Marxist fashion, he informs us elsewhere that the basic motivation 
of social life is economic: civilization is just a cumbersome device for 
inducing men and women to do what they spontaneously detest, namely 
work. We are all naturally bone idle, and without this superstructure of 
sanctions and cajolements we would just lie around all day in various 
interesting states of jouissance. This is not, of course, exactly Marx's own 
point: the legal, political and ideological superstructure of society, for him at 
least, is a consequence of the self-divided nature of the economic 'base' in class 
conditions - of the fact that economic exploitation needs to be socially 
legitimated. It does not just follow from the universal injunction to labour. 
But Freud is aware that labour, at least in this kind of society, entails the 
renouncing of instinctual gratification; and the 'superstructure' of civiliza- 
tion, or 'culture', must therefore either coerce or cajole us into buckling 
down to the business of material reproduction. Freud's thought here is 
impeccably Gramscian: the means by which society is perpetuated, so he 
informs us, are' 'measures of coercion and other measures that are intended 
to reconcile men (to their material destiny) and to recompense them for 
their sacrifices. These latter may be described as the mental assets of civilisa- 
tion' (189). Or - in Gramsci's own terms - the institutions of hegemony. 
Culture for both thinkers is an amalgam of coercive and consensual 
mechanisms for reconciling human subjects to their unwelcome fate as 



labouring animals in oppressive conditions. 

The problem in Freud's view is that such hegemonic processes can 
quickly become self-defeating. We sublimate our otherwise anti-social 
instincts into cultural ideals of one kind or another, which serve to unify a 
race of predatory egoists who would otherwise be at each other's throats. But 
these ideals can then become tyrannically excessive in their demands, 
demanding more instinctual renunciation than we can properly manage and 
so causing us to fall ill of neurosis. Moreover, this hegemony is threatened as 
soon as it becomes clear that some are being forced into more renunciation 
than others. In this situation, Freud comments, a 'permanent state of 
discontent' will persist in society and may lead to 'dangerous revolts'. If the 
satisfaction of the minority depends on the suppression of the majority, then 
it is understandable that the latter will begin to manifest a 'justifiable 
hostility' to the culture which their labour makes possible, but in which they 
have too meagre a share. A crisis of hegemony will consequently ensue; for 
hegemony is established by men and women internalizing the law which 
governs them, and in conditions of flagrant inequality 'an internalisa- 
tion of the cultural prohibitions among the suppressed people is not to be 
expected' (191). 'It goes without saying', Freud adds, 'that a civilisation which 
leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into 
revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence' (192). 

The mechanism by which the law of society is internalized is known as 
the superego. The superego is the voice of authority within us all, no longer 
an externally imposed power but the very ground of our personal conscience 
and moral idealism. Once power has inscribed itself within the very form of 
our subjectivity, any insurrection against it would seem to involve a selj- 
transgression. To emancipate ourselves from ourselves - the whole purpose 
of Freud's therapeutic project - is a much more difficult affair than throwing 
off some merely external model of dominion. In the formation of the 
superego or Name-of-the-Father, power comes to entwine itself with the 
roots of the unconscious, tapping something of its awesome, implacable 
energy and directing this force sadistically against the ego itself. If political 
power is as recalcitrant as it is, then it is partly because the subject has come 
to love and desire the very law which subjugates it, in the erotic perversion 
known as masochism. The suppressed classes', Freud writes, 'can be 
emotionally attached to their masters; in spite of their hostility to them they 
may see in them their ideals' (193); and this, psychically speaking, is one 
secret of the tenacity of political domination. 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

Making die law our own, however, will not resolve the problems of 
civilization. Our appropriation of it will always be a partial, ambivalent 
affair - which is to say in Freudian parlance that the Oedipus complex is 
never fully dissolved. If we love and desire the law, we also nurture an 
intense animosity towards it, rejoicing in seeing this august authority 
brought low. And since the law itself is cruel, sadistic and tyrannical, it drives 
our aggression back upon ourselves and ensures that for every renunciation 
of satisfaction we are plunged deeper into neurotic guilt. In this sense, the 
power which sustains civilization also helps to undo it, stoking up within us 
a culture of lethal self-hatred. The law is obtuse as well as brutal: it is not 
only vengeful, paranoid and vindictive, but utterly insensitive to the fact that 
its insanely excessive demands could not possibly be fulfilled. It is a form of 
high-minded terrorism, which will simply rub our noses in our failure to 
live up to it rather than show us how to placate it. Before the law we are 
always in the wrong: like some imperious monarch, the superego 'does not 
trouble itself enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human 
beings. It issues a command and does not ask whether it is possible for 
people to obey it' 13 This fanatical power is out of control, driving men and 
women to madness and despair, and Freud, who regarded the law as one of 
his oldest enemies, sees it as one aim of psychoanalysis to temper its death- 
dealing rigour. 

It might be thought that men and women would naturally be driven to 
rebel against any authority as cruel as the superego. If they do not commonly 
do so, it is because in Freud's view the superego has its roots in the id or 
unconscious, closer to the unconscious than is the ego itself. Our submission 
to the law, in other words, is spurred on by strong instinctual forces, which 
bind us libidinally to it. The paradox, then, is that the very unconscious 
energies which fuel the superego's despotism are also those which drive us to 
embrace it; and this can be seen as deconstructing the Gramscian opposition 
of coercion and consent What makes the law so coercive - the powerful 
unconscious impulsions behind its brutality - belong with the erotic drives 
which lead us to consent to it. 

If 'culture' in Freud's eyes is a matter of sublimation, compensation and 
imaginary resolution, then it is really synonymous with one influential 
concept of ideology. But Freud's view of civilization is also ideological in a 
different sense. For him, as much as for Thomas Hobbes or Jeremy Bentham, 
there is an eternal enmity between the ruthlessly self-gratifying individual 
and the demands of society. Men and women are naturally self-seeking, 



dominative and aggressive, monstrous predators who can be dissuaded out 
of mutual injury only by the prohibitions of authority, or by the bribery of 
some alternative yield of pleasure. Freud has litde or no conception of 
human society as nourishing as well as constraining - as a place of reciprocal 
self-fulfilment as well as a mechanism for keeping us from each other's 
throats. His view of both individual and society, in short, is classically 
bourgeois: the individual as an isolated monad powered by its appetites, 
society as some mere contractual device without which libidinal anarchy 
would be let loose. Given this cynical market-place morality, it is hardly 
surprising that the 'culture' which is meant to regulate and reconcile 
individuals is revealed as alarmingly fragile in contrast to their insatiable lust 
to plunder and possess. Freud's psychoanalytic theory is not finally dis- 
sociable from the politics of his social class, and like bourgeois political 
economy is inscribed at key points by these prejudices. It universalizes a 
particular view of 'man' to global status; and much the same can be said of 
the later version of the theory which is the school of Jacques Lacan. 
Whatever striking insights Lacan's work has undoubtedly to offer, there is 
surely no doubt that its view of the human subject as a mere effect of some 
inscrutable Other, its scorn for the whole concept of political emancipation, 
and its contemptuous dismissal of human history as little more than a 
'sewer', has had its part to play in that jaundiced, disenchanted post-war ethos 
which goes under the name of the 'end of ideology'. 

Whatever Freud's final trust in human reason, he is plainly not a rationalist 
as far as psychoanalytic practice goes. He does not believe that a patient could 
ever be cured simply by offering him a theoretical account of his ills. To this 
extent, Freud is at one with Mane the point is not to interpret the world, but 
to change it. Neurosis is to be dispelled not by displacing its 'falsity' with 
some intellectual truth, but by tackling the material conditions which give 
birth to it in the first place. For him as for Marx, theory is pointless unless it 
comes to intervene as a transformative force within actual experience. For 
Marx, the opposite of an oppressive ideology is not in the end theory or an 
alternative ideology, but political practice. For Freud, the alternative to 
psychic disorder is the scene of analysis itself, within which the only truth 
that matters is that which gets constructed in the interplay between analyst 
and analysand. Like political practice, the scene of analysis is an active 
'staging' or working through of conflicts, a 'theatricalizing' of certain urgent 
real-life issues in which the practical relations of human subjects to those 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

problems is crucially transfigured. Both revolutionary practice and the scene 
of analysis involves the painful construction of a new identify on the ruins of 
the old, which is to be recollected rather than repressed; and in both cases 
'theory' comes down to an altered practical self-understanding. Marxism 
and Freudianism have due respect for analytic discourse, in contrast to those 
modern irrationalisms which can afford the luxury of not needing to know. 
But for both creeds, the proof of emancipatory theory lies in the perform- 
ance; and in this process theory and practice never form some neatly 
symmetrical whole. For if theory is a material intervention, it will alter the 
very practice it takes as its object and so stand in need of transformation 
itself, in order to be equal to the new situation it has produced. Practice, in 
other words, becomes the 'truth' that interrogates theory; so that here, as in 
the play of transference and countertransference between analyst and 
patient, it is never easy to say who exactly is analysing whom. A 'successful' 
theoretical act is one which substantially engages with practice and thus 
ceases to remain identical with itself, ceases to be 'pure theory'. Similarly, an 
ideological practice is no longer identical with itself once theory has entered 
it from the inside; but this is not to say that it now attains to a truth of which 
it was previously just ignorant. For theory can only successfully intervene in 
practice if it elicits what glimmerings of self-understanding the practice 
already has. If the analyst is a 'pure' theoretician, then she will be incapable of 
deciphering this particular form of mystified speech; and if the neurotic 
patient were not already unconsciously in search of some self-under- 
standing, there would be no neurosis in the first place. For such disturbances, 
as we saw earlier, are ways of trying to encompass a real dilemma, and so 
contain their own kind of truth. 

If neurosis contains this more 'positive' element, then so for Freud does 
an ideological illusion like religion. He distinguishes in The Future of an 
Illusion between 'delusions', by which he means psychotic states of mind in 
outright contradiction with reality, and 'illusions', which for all their 
unreality express a genuine wish. An illusion, for example, may be false now, 
but might be realized in the future; a middle-class woman may fantasize that 
a prince will arrive to marry her, and in the odd case may prove prophetic. 
What characterizes such illusions in Freud's view is their 'forward-looking' 
perspective, which is to say that they are essentially modes of wish-fulfil- 
ment. Thus we call a belief an illusion', he writes, 'when a wish-fulfilment is 
a prominent factor in its motivation, and in doing so we disregard its 
relations to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification' (213). 



We need only substitute the term 'ideology' for 'illusion' here to read the 
statement as impeccably Althusserian: it is not a matter of verifying or 
falsifying the representation in question, but of grasping it as encoding some 
underlying desire. Such illusions are indissolubly bound up with reality: 
'Ideology', comments Slavoj 2izek, 'is not a dreamlike illusion that we build 
to escape an insupportable reality; in its basic dimension it is a fantasy- 
construction which serves as a support for our 'reality' itself: an 'illusion' 
which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some 
insupportable, real, impossible kernel . . ." 4 As Althusser might put the point: 
in ideology, social reality is invested in the imaginary, interwoven with fantasy 
throughout its entire fabric, and this is very different from conceiving of it as 
a chimerical 'superstructure' erected over a solidly real 'base'. It is also, we 
may note, different from conceiving of it merely as a 'screen', which 
interposes itself between reality and ourselves. The reality and its appear- 
ances or fantasmal forms are much more closely intermeshed than any such 
imagery would imply. Real and imaginary are given in ideology together - 
which is why 2izek can argue that 'the only way to break the power of our 
ideological dream is to confront the Real of our desire which announces 
itself there.' If 'disinvesting' ourselves of an ideological viewpoint is as 
difficult as it usually is, it is because it involves a painful 'decathecting' or 
disinvestment of fantasy-objects, and thus a reorganization of the psychical 
economy of the self. Ideology clings to its various objects with all the 
purblind tenacity of the unconscious; and one important hold that it has 
over us is its capacity to yield enjoyment. Beyond the field of ideological 
signification, as 2izek points out, there is always a kind of non-signifying 
'surplus' which is enjoyment or jouissance; and this enjoyment is the last 
'support' of ideological meaning. 15 

Illusion, then, is by no means in Freud's view a purely negative category. 
Indeed it is a good deal less negative than Marx's early conception of 
ideology. If ideology is a condition of reality suffused and supported by our 
unconscious desires, as well as by our anxiety and aggression, then it 
conceals a Utopian kernel. Illusion adumbrates within the present some 
more desirable state of affairs in which men and women would feel less 
helpless, fearful and bereft of meaning. It is thus radically double-edged, 
anodyne and aspiration together; and Frederic Jameson has argued that this 
is true of all artefacts in class society. Ideologies, cultural formations and 
works of art may well operate as strategic 'containments' of real contradic- 
tions; but they also gesture, if only by virtue of their collective form, to 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

possibilities beyond this oppressive condition. 16 On this argument, even such 
'degraded' modes of gratification as pulp fiction encode some frail impulse 
to a more durable fulfilment, and thus dimly prefigure the shape of the good 
society. Surprisingly, then, Freud's concept of illusion turns out to be at one 
with the notion of ideology developed by the later Frankfurt schooL For 
Herbert Marcuse, the culture of class society is at once a false sublimation of 
social conflict and - if only in the very structural integrity of the work of art 
- a Utopian critique of the present Walter Benjamin's study of nineteenth- 
century Parisian society reminds us of Michelet's slogan that 'every epoch 
dreams its successor', and finds a buried promise of happiness and abun- 
dance in the very consumerist fantasies of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Ernst 
Bloch, in his Principle of Hope (1954-5), unearths glimmerings of Utopia from 
that most apparendy unpromising of all materials, advertising slogans. 

To examine the unconscious dimensions of ideology is at once hopeful 
and cautionary. If ideology is interwoven with fantasy, then this is one reason 
for its formidable power, but such fantasies are never easily containable 
within the present, and point in principle beyond it Utopia would be a 
condition in which Freud's 'pleasure principle' and 'reality principle' would 
have merged into one, so that social reality itself be wholly fulfilling. The 
eternal war between these principles rules out for Freud any such reconcilia- 
tion; but the unreality of Utopia is therefore also the impossibility of any 
total identification between our libidinal drives and a given system of poli- 
tical power. What thwarts Utopia is the ruin of dystopia too: no ruling class 
can be wholly victorious. Freud has litde to say directly of ideology; but it is 
very probable that what he points to as the fundamental mechanisms of the 
psychical life are the structural devices of ideology as well Projection, 
displacement, sublimation, condensation, repression, idealization, substitu- 
tion, rationalization, disavowal: all of these are at work in the text of 
ideology, as much as in dream and fantasy, and this is one of the richest lega- 
cies Freud has bequeathed to the critique of ideological consciousness. 

The belief that human existence is basically a matter of interests, and thus 
'ideological' to the core, gathers pace in the late nineteenth and early 
twentieth centuries, as a crisis of capitalism calls its ruling rationality into 
question.' 7 As the capitalist system lurches nearer to global imperialist 
warfare, the faith in an absolute reason which typified its more 'classical' 
phase begins inexorably to collapse. Early twentieth-century Europe is 
awash with symbolism and primitivism, with a return to myth and a cult of 



unreason; it is shot through with strains of Wagner and Nietzsche, 
apocalypse and the dark gods. Indeed it is remarkable how much supposedly 
avant garde thinking today simply reinvents the fin de siecle, with its 
intimations of some primeval chaos lurking beneath the rational forms of 

In his Treatise of General Sociology (1916), produced in the midst of the first 
world war, the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto argues that the non- 
rational element in human behaviour greatly outweighs the rational (No 
doubt this seemed an eminently rational case at the time, given a quick 
glance at the newspapers.) In Pareto's view, there are certain relatively 
invariable 'sentiments' in human life, the expression of which he terms 
'residues'; and these provide the primary determinants of our action. 
Residues become encoded in turn in 'derivations', meaning the sorts of non- 
logical or pseudo-logical arguments (appeals to custom, tradition, authority 
and so on) which we use to justify our sentiments. So derivation is really a 
word for ideology, but a word which applies right across the board of our 
discourses. Ideas are just specious rationalizations of unchanging human 
motives; and politics, which for the right-wing Pareto is always funda- 
mentally elitist even in so-called democratic societies, is the art of 
acquainting oneself with the 'sentiments' and 'derivations' of the masses in 
order to manipulate them in the right direction. At an historical moment 
when mass revolutionary forces were stirring, this case had a certain political 
urgency about it. Bourgeois rationality is being challenged by emergent 
social powers, and must drop its mask of disinterestedness: it must ac- 
knowledge instead that all ideas are a brand of sophistical rhetoric, and hope 
that its own rhetoric will outdo that of its antagonists. 

Ideas for Pareto may be false and unscientific, but still fulfil a useful role 
in sustaining social unity, and in this he is at one with the political philo- 
sopher Georges Sorel. In his Reflections on Violence (1906), Sorel counters what 
he sees as the dreary positivism of the Second International with his own 
peculiarly poeticized brand of Marxism. As a revolutionary syndicalist, Sorel 
places the general strike at the centre of his political programme; but what 
practical goals such a strike might achieve is for him a secondary matter. The 
general strike is a mytk it exists as an image or enabling fiction which will 
unify the proletariat, organize their political consciousness and inspire them 
to heroic action. 'Use must be made', Sorel writes, 'of a body of images 
which, by intuition alone, and before any considered analyses are made, is 
capable of evoking as an undivided whole the mass of sentiments which 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

corresponds to the different manifestations of the war undertaken by 
Socialism against modern society. The Syndicalists solve this problem 
perfectly, by concentrating the whole of Socialism in the drama of the 
general strike. . . .' I8 The general strike is a Romantic symbol, distilling in one 
flash of intuition a whole complex reality, it is a pre-reflective, pre- 
discursive image which allows for what Sorel, following his mentor Henri 
Bergson, calls 'integral' rather than analytic knowledge. 

Sorel thus represents the point at which a Nietzschean pragmatism 
inrupts into the Marxist tradition Political ideas are no longer to be assessed 
as scientifically correct or erroneous: they must be grasped instead as vital 
organizing principles, unifying forces which are 'true' in so far as they 
engender the 'noblest and deepest sentiments' in the working class and spur 
them to revolutionary action. They are thus conveniently proof against all 
rational argument. For Sorel as for the Nietzsche he admired, ideas are 
practical, provisional ways of cohering our experience so that our powers 
may best flourish. What matters is the elan of an image rather than the 
exactitude of a theory; and to this extent Sorel 'aestheticizes' the process of 
socialist revolution. The notion of the general strike, he remarks, produces 
'an entirely epic state of mind'; and if such imagery is needed it is because 
there is something 'obscure' and 'mysterious' about socialism which resists 
all representation 'No rational induction', Sorel writes in typical ob- 
scurantist fashion, 'will ever dispel the mystery which envelopes Socialism'; 19 
and the same is true of the process of proletarian revolution itself, which 
'must be conceived as a catastrophe, the development of which beggars 
description'. 20 Socialism, in short, is a kind of 'sublimity', defying all discur- 
sive analysis; and its content must thus be conveyed in the immediacy of a 
mythical image rather than by the circumlocutions of science. Much 
influenced by this Sorelian irrarionalism, the German critic Walter 
Benjamin wrote in his essay on surrealism of the need to 'expel moral 
metaphor from politics and to discover in political action a sphere reserved 
one hundred percent for images'. 21 

The essentially practical bent of Sorel's theories (he began life as an 
engineer) has a superficial radical appeal. But few thinkers more graphically 
reveal the dangers of pragmatism in radical chought. The intellectuals are 
not concerned about whether the ideas for which the workers struggle and 
perhaps die are true, or even whether they are practically efficacious; they 
are simply convenient ways of generating the kinds of consciousness which 
the intellectual deems desirable. The irresponsibility of such a stance is at 



one with Sorel's aestheticist glorification of revolutionary violence as an end 
in itself. His thinking powerfully influenced Antonio Gramsci, but helped 
breed a more sinister progeny too. The Romantic cult of will, action and 
violence, the sub-Nietzschean delight in the theatrical and heroic, the 
apocalypticism and poetic mysticism - all of these rendered Sorel's thought 
more than palatable to fascism. Indeed it is in fascism that one current of 
ideas we are tracing - the 'mythification' of thought, its reduction to a mere 
instrument of deeper forces - finds its fullest expression. 

The relationship between myth and ideology is not easy to determine. 22 
Are myths the ideologies of pre-industrial societies, or ideologies the myths 
of industrial ones? If there are clear parallels between the two, there are also 
significant points of difference. Both myth and ideology are worlds of 
symbolic meaning with social functions and effects; but myth is arguably the 
more capacious term, revolving as it does on the great 'metaphysical' 
questions of birth, sexuality and death, of sacred times, places and origins. 
Ideologies are generally more specific, pragmatic forms of discourse, which 
may encompass such mighty issues but bring them to bear more directly on 
questions of power. Myths are usually more concerned with how the 
aardvark got its long nose than with how to spot a communist They are also 
typically pre-historical or dehistoricizing, fixing events in some eternal 
present or viewing them as infinitely repetitive; ideologies, by contrast, may 
and often do dehistoricize, but the various nineteenth-century ideologies of 
triumphal historical progress hardly fit this bill. (One may argue, however, 
that such ideologies of history are historical in their content but 
immobilized in their form; certainly Claude Levi-Strauss sees 'history* as 
simply a modern myth.) 

Myths may not legitimate political power as directly as ideologies, but in 
the manner of Pierre Bourdieu's doxa they can be seen as naturalizing and 
universalizing a particular social structure, rendering any alternative to it 
unthinkable. They can also be regarded in the style of a Levi-Strauss as 
providing imaginary resolutions to real contradictions, and thus resemble 
ideology in this way too. 23 Some ideological discourses may harness bodies 
of myth to their purposes, as with Nazism or The Waste Land; one might 
think also of Bertolt Brest's uses of folk legend in his literary works. Rather 
than simply identifying myth and ideology, then, it seems safer to speak of 
those aspects of ideologies which are mythical and those which are not. A 
myth is not just any old falsehood: we would not describe as a myth the 
claim that Everest can be scaled in forty minutes at a brisk trot To qualify as 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

mythical, the belief would have to be widely shared and reflect some signi- 
ficant psychological investment on the part of its adherents. The claim that 
'science has the solution to all of humanity's problems' would probably fill 
this bill, and reveals, moreover, the element of idealization which most 
mythologizing entails. Mythical figures or events are those imbued with an 
aura of specialness: they are privileged, exemplary, larger-than-life pheno- 
mena which distil in peculiarly pure form some collective meaning or 
fantasy. We can thus speak of 'the myth of Jimi Hendrix', as we would not 
speak of the myth of Jimmy Carter. Myth is thus a particular register of 
ideology, which elevates certain meanings to numinous status; but it would 
be a mistake to imagine that all ideological language involves this sort of 
allure. Like ideology, myth need not involve falsity, there is nothing false 
about the myth of Jimi Hendrix, unless it implies a belief in his divinity. 
Nor need myths be mystificatory, in the sense of breeding deceptive effects 
in the service of a dominant power. The myth of England as a sleeping giant 
about to arise and throw off its shackles has served the cause of political 
emancipation in its time. Finally, we may note that whereas myths are 
typically narratives, ideology does not invariably assume such a form. 

This, however, raises an important issue. Do politically oppositional 
movements live ineluctably in myth, or should we strive - as in that dream 
of Enlightenment from Kant to Freud - for a future condition in which men 
and women will face the world without such opiates, confident in their 
dignity as rational beings? Let us consider the example of the mythologies of 
Irish nationalism. It is possible to make a number of severe criticisms of this 
body of belief. At its most extreme it is a form of essentialism, trusting to 
some pure essence of Irishness (identical with the Gaelic and Catholic) 
which must be preserved free of contamination from alien influences. In this 
view, Ulster Protestants would not figure as truly Irish at all. In its crudest 
manifestations, this essentialism merges into outright racism. Irish nation- 
alism tends to sponsor a cyclical, homogenizing reading of history, in which 
there is an heroic continuity of anti-imperialist struggle and in which almost 
all of the ills of Ireland can be laid at Britain's door. All battles are the same 
battle, all victories and defeats effectively identical. It thrives on an 
irresponsible, masochistic quasi-mystical cult of martyrdom and blood- 
sacrifice, for which failure sometimes appears more efficacious than success. 
It is notoriously masculinist, furnished with a pantheon of virile, seven-foot- 
tall young heroes allotted pseudo-religious status. It trades in sexist stereo- 
types about 'Mother Ireland', to whom these heroes are eternally wedded, 



and whom they will fertilize with their life-giving blood. It is incurably 
nostalgic and sentimental, fetishizes the cause of national unity regardless of 
its social content, and is markedly churlish and atavistic in its attitude to the 

It is clear enough that no self-respecting liberal would be caught 
associating with this barbarous creed. There are, however, two lines of 
defence which may be launched in its name, neither of which need deny the 
real criticisms listed above. The first defence is that this blanket condemna- 
tion fails to perceive the rational kernel within the mythical shell. It 
overlooks the fact that this mythology projects in luridly exaggerated form a 
number of uncomfortable home truths which the British would prefer to 
ignore, and of which their 'enlightened' rejection of such doctrines is in part 
a political rationalization. Many of Ireland's problems have indeed had their 
source in the colonial connection with Britain. For all the mythological 
machismo, Irish men and women have indeed displayed remarkable courage 
over the centuries in their struggle for national liberation. 'National unity* 
may certainly be something of a fetish, but are the British who hold this 
view therefore prepared to hand over the Home Counties to Dublin? There 
is truth in the charge of masochism and cultic self-sacrifice; but it is also true 
that Irish republicans have sometimes preferred to spill their own blood 
rather than that of others. Irish nationalist beliefs are certainly often 
nostalgic and atavistic, contemptuous of modernity; and looking at 
modernity, who can blame them? The myths of Irish nationalism, however 
retrograde and objectionable, are not pure illusions: they encapsulate, in 
however reductive, hyperbolic a form, some substantial historical facts. They 
are not just benighted nonsense, as the decent-minded liberal might tend to 

But there is a more fundamental line of defence to be run here. For is not 
any such critique of the myths of an oppressed people bound to be launched 
from an aridly intellectualist viewpoint? Men and women engaged in such 
conflicts do not live by theory alone; socialists have not given their lives over 
the generations for the tenet that the ratio of fixed to variable capital gives 
rise to a tendential fall-off in the rate of profit. It is not in defence of the 
doctrine of base and superstructure that men and women are prepared to 
embrace hardship and persecution in the course of political struggle. 
Oppressed groups tell themselves epic narratives of their history, celebrate 
their solidarity in song and ritual, fashion collective symbols of their 
common endeavour. Is all this to be scornfully dismissed as so much mental 


From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

befuddlement? Yet if such mythological consciousness on the part of the 
oppressed is valid and unavoidable, is it not in uneasy collusion with mystifi- 
cation? When Walter Benjamin wrote that 'myth will persist as long as a 
single beggar remains', 2 * it was this politically negative sense of mythology 
that he had in mind. 

We seem, in short, to be faced with two equally unpalatable alternatives. 
On the one hand, there is the Enlightenment hope that men and women 
may come to outgrow mythology altogether; but this would seem to involve 
a barren rationalism. On the other hand, we may accept that the masses need 
their myths, but that this is to be sharply distinguished from the theorizing 
of the intellectuals. In which case, as the work of a Sorel or Althusser may be 
thought to attest, we have simply swapped an anaemic intellectualism for a 
cynical opportunism or elitism. There is, however, a useful distinction 
enforced by Frank Kermode in his The Sense of an Ending between 'myth' and 
'fiction'. Fiction, in Kermode's view, is a symbolic construct ironically aware 
of its own fictionality, whereas myths have mistaken their symbolic worlds 
for literal ones and so come to naturalize their own status. 25 The dividing 
line between the two is notably blurred, since fictions have a tendency to 
degenerate into myths. Political demonstrators who chant, 'The workers 
united shall never be defeated' may actually believe this, which is cause for 
alarm. For it is not true that the workers united will never be defeated, and it 
is irresponsible to suggest that it is. But it is unlikely that most people who 
chant this slogan regard it as some valid theoretical proposition. It is clearly a 
piece of rhetoric, designed to foster solidarity and self-affirmation, and to 
'believe' in it is to believe in it as suck It is perfectly possible to believe in it as 
a piece of political rhetoric but not to believe in it as a theoretical proposi- 
tion - a situation of believing and not believing simultaneously which 
somewhat complicates the drastically simplistic phenomenology of belief 
typical of some contemporary neo-pragmarist thought. To place one's 
credence in the slogan as rhetorically valid is to perform a fictional act, 
whereas to take it literally is to fall victim to a myth. And it is in this sense 
that rationalism and elitism are not, after all, the only political alternatives. 


Discourse a nd 

We HAVE seen that the concept of ideology embraces, among other things, 
the notion of reification; but it can be argued that it is a reification all of 
itself. Nobody has ever clapped eyes on an ideological formation, any more 
than on the Freudian unconscious or a mode of production. The term 
'ideology' is just a convenient way of categorking under a single heading a 
whole lot of different things we do with signs. The phrase 'bourgeois 
ideology*, for example, is simply shorthand for an immense range of 
discourses scattered in time and space. To call all of these languages 'bour- 
geois' is of course to imply that they have something in common; but that 
common element need not be thought of as some invariable structure of 
categories. It is probably more useful here to think along the lines of Ludwig 
Wittgenstein's doctrine of 'family resemblances' - of a network of over- 
lapping features rather than some constant 'essence'. 

Much traditional talk of ideology has been couched in terms of 
'consciousness' and 'ideas' - terms which have their appropriate uses, but 
which tend to nudge us unwittingly in the direction of idealism. For 
'consciousness' too is a kind of reification, an abstraction from our actual 
forms of discursive practice. It belongs to what we might call the linguistic 
revolution of the twentieth century that we have shifted from thinking of 
words in terms of concepts to thinking of concepts in terms of words. 
Instead of holding in empiricist vein that words 'stand for' concepts, we now 



tend to see 'having a concept' as the capacity to use words in particular ways. 
A concept is thus more of a practice than a state of mind - though we have 
seen that Louis Althusser risks bending the stick too far in this direction, 
reducing concepts to social practices. But there is a third way between 
thinking of ideology as disembodied ideas on the one hand, and as nothing 
but a matter of certain behaviour patterns on the other. This is to regard 
ideology as a discursive or semiotic phenomenon. And this at once 
emphasizes its materiality (since signs are material entities), and preserves 
the sense that it is essentially concerned with meanings. Talk of signs and 
discourses is inherently social and practical, whereas terms like 'conscious- 
ness' are residues of an idealist tradition of thought. 

It may help to view ideology less as a particular set of discourses, than as a 
particular set of effects within discourses. Bourgeois ideology includes this 
particular discourse on property, that way of talking about the soul, this 
treatise on jurisprudence and the kind of utterances one overhears in pubs 
where the landlord wears a military tie. What is 'bourgeois' about this mixed 
bunch of idioms is less the kind of languages they are than the effects they 
produce: effects, for example, of 'closure', whereby certain forms of signi- 
fication are silently excluded, and certain signifiers 'fixed' in a commanding 
position. These effects are discursive, not purely formal, features of language: 
what is interpreted as 'closure*, for example, will depend on the concrete 
context of utterance, and is variable from one communicative situation to 
the next 

The first semiotic theory of ideology was developed by the Soviet 
philosopher V.N. Voloshinov in his Marxism and the Philosophy of Language 
(1929) - a work in which the author boldly proclaims that 'without signs 
there is no ideology'. 1 In his view, the domain of signs and the realm of 
ideology are coextensive: consciousness can arise only in the material 
embodiment of signifiers, and since these signifiers are in themselves 
material, they are not just 'reflections' of reality but an integral part of it. 
The logic of consciousness', Voloshinov writes, 'is the logic of ideological 
communication, of the semiotic interaction of a social group. If we deprive 
consciousness of its semiotic, ideological content, it would have absolutely 
nothing left.' 2 The word is the 'ideological phenomenon par excellence', and 
consciousness itself is just the internalization of words, a kind of 'inner 
speech'. To put the point differently, consciousness is less something 'within' 
us than something around and between us, a network of signifiers which 
constitute us through and through. 


Discourse and Ideology 

If ideology cannot be divorced from the sign, then neither can the sign be 
isolated from concrete forms of social intercourse. It is within these alone 
that the sign 'lives'; and these forms of intercourse must in turn be related to 
the material basis of social life. The sign and its social situation are in- 
extricably fused together, and this situation determines from within the 
form and structure of an utterance. We have here, then, the outline of a 
materialist theory of ideology which does not simply reduce it to a 'reflex' of 
the economic 'base', but grants the materiality of the word, and the discur- 
sive contexts in which it is caught up, their proper due. 

If language and ideology are in one sense identical for Voloshinov, they 
are nor in another. For contending ideological positions may articulate 
themselves in the same national language, intersect within the same 
linguistic community; and this means that the sign becomes 'an arena of 
class struggle'. A particular social sign is pulled this way and that by 
competing social interests, inscribed from within with a multiplicity of 
ideological 'accents'; and it is in this way that it sustains its dynamism and 
vitality. Voloshinov's work thus yields us a new definition of ideology, as the 
struggle of antagonistic social interests at the level of the sign. 

Voloshinov is the father of what has since come to be called 'discourse 
analysis', which attends to the play of social power within language itself. 
Ideological power, as John B. Thompson puts it, is not just a matter of 
meaning, but of making a meaning stick? Voloshinov's theories are taken 
forward in the work of the French Althusserian linguist Michel Pecheux, 
notably in his Language, Semantics and Ideology (1975). Pecheux wishes to go 
beyond the celebrated Saussurean distinction between langue (the abstract 
system of language) and parole (particular utterances) with the concepts of 
'discursive process' and 'discursive formation'. A discursive formation can be 
seen as a set of rules which determine what can and must be' said from a 
certain position within social life; and expressions have meaning only by 
virtue of the discursive formations within which they occur, changing 
significance as they are transported from one to the other. A discursive 
formation thus constitutes a 'matrix of meaning' or system of linguistic 
relations within which actual discursive 'processes are generated. Any 
particular discursive formation will form part of a structured totality of such 
phenomena, which Pecheux calls 'interdiscourse'; and each discursive 
formation is embedded in turn in an ideological formation, which contains 
non-discursive practices as well as discursive ones. 

Every discursive process is thus inscribed in ideological relations, and will 



be internally moulded by their pressure. Language itself is a 'relatively 
autonomous' system, shared by worker and bourgeois, man and woman, 
idealist and materialist alike; but precisely because it forms the common 
basis of all discursive formations, it becomes the medium of ideological 
conflict A 'discursive semantics' would then examine how the elements of a 
specific discursive formation are linked to form discursive processes with 
reference to an ideological context. But the position of a discursive forma- 
tion within a complex whole, which includes its ideological context, will 
typically be concealed from the individual speaker, in an act of what 
Pecheux calls 'forgetting'; and it is because of this oblivion or repression that 
the speaker's meanings appear obvious and natural to him. The speaker 
'forgets' that he or she is just the function of a discursive and ideological 
formation, and thus comes to misrecognize herself as the author of her own 
discourse. Rather as the Lacanian infant identifies itself with its imaginary 
reflection, so the speaking subject effects an identification with the 
discursive formation which dominates it. But Pecheux leaves open the 
possibility of a 'dis-identification' with such formations, which is one condi- 
tion of political transformation. 

The work of Voloshinov and Pecheux has pioneered a varied, fertile strain 
of discourse analysis.* Much of this work examines how the inscription of 
social power within language can be traced in lexical, syntactic and 
grammatical structures - so that, for example, the use of an abstract noun, or 
a switch of mood from active to passive, may serve to obscure the concrete 
agency of a social event in ways convenient for ruling ideological interests. 
Other studies involve analysis of the distribution of speech opportunities 
within conversation, or the ideological effects of oral narrative organization. 
While sometimes solemnly labouring the obvious, wheeling up the big guns 
of linguistic analysis to despatch the inconsiderable gnat of a dirty joke, this 
brand of investigation has opened up a new dimension in a theory of 
ideology traditionally concerned with 'consciousness' rather than linguistic 
performance, 'ideas' rather than social interaction. 

A quite different style of thought about language and ideology came to 
characterize avant-garde European thought in the 1970s. For this current of 
inquiry, associated with the French semiotic journal Tel Quel, ideology is 
essentially a matter of 'fixing' the otherwise inexhaustible process of signifi- 
cation around certain dominant signifiers, with which the individual subject 
can then identify. Language itself is infinitely productive; but this incessant 
productivity can be artificially arrested into 'closure' - into the sealed world 


Discourse and Ideology 

of ideological stability, which repels the disruptive, decentred forces of 
language in the name of an imaginary unity. Signs are ranked by a certain 
covert violence into rigidly hierarchical order; as Rosalind Coward and John 
Ellis put it, 'ideological practice ... works to fix the subject in certain 
positions in relation to certain fixities of discourse.' 5 The process of forging 
'representations* always involves this arbitrary closing off of the signifying 
chain, constricting the free play of the signifier to a spuriously determinate 
meaning which can then be received by the subject as natural and inevitable. 
Just as for Pecheux the speaking subject 'forgets' the discursive formation 
which sets him in place, so for this mode of thought ideological representa- 
tion involves repressing the work of language, the material process of 
signifying production which underlies these coherent meanings and can 
always potentially subvert them. 

This is a suggestive conjuncture of linguistics, Marxism and psycho- 
analysis, involving an enriched materialism which examines the very consti- 
tution in language of the human subject. It is not, however, without its 
difficulties. Politically speaking, this is a latently libertarian theory of the 
subject, which tends to 'demonize' the very act of semiotic closure and 
uncritically celebrate the euphoric release of the forces of linguistic produc- 
tion. It occasionally betrays an anarchic suspicion of meaning as such; and it 
falsely assumes that 'closure' is always counterproductive. But such closure is 
a provisional effect of any semiosis whatsoever, and may be politically 
enabling rather than constraining: 'Reclaim the night!' involves a semiotic 
and (in one sense of the term) ideological closure, but its political force lies 
precisely in this. The left-semiotic hostility to such provisionally stabilized 
signifiers comes at times perilously close to the liberal's banal suspicion of 
'labels'. Whether such closure is politically positive or negative depends on 
the discursive and ideological context; and this mode of analysis is generally 
too eager to overlook discursive context in its left-academicist contempla- 
tion of language as 'text*. It is rarely, in other words, a form of actual 
discourse analysis; instead, like its philological opponents, it takes 'language 
as such' as its object of enquiry, and thus fails to escape a certain left 
formalism and abstraction. Jacques Derrida and his progeny are primarily 
interested in the sliding of the Mallarmean signifier, rather than in what gets 
said during the tea-break in the Hilton kitchens. In the case of Tel Quel, a 
starry-eyed Western view of the Maoist 'cultural revolution' is naively 
transplanted to the arena of language, so that political revolution becomes 
implicitly equated with some ceaseless disruption and overturning. The case 



betrays an anarchistic suspicion of institutionality as such, and ignores the 
extent to which a certain provisional stability of identity is essential not only 
for psychical well-being but for revolutionary political agency. It contains no 
adequate theory of such agency, since the subject would now seem no more 
than the decentred effect of the semiotic process; and its valuable attention 
to the split, precarious, pluralistic nature of all identity slides at its worst into 
an irresponsible hymning of the virtues of schizophrenia. Political revolution 
becomes, in effect, equivalent to carnivalesque delirium; and if this usefully 
reinstates those pleasurable, Utopian, mind-shattering aspects of the process 
which a puritanical Marxism has too frequently suppressed, it leaves those 
comrades drearily enamoured of 'closure' to do the committee work, 
photocopy the leaflets and organize the food supplies. What is enduringly 
valuable about the case is its attempt to uncover the linguistic and psycho- 
analytic mechanisms of ideological representation - to expose ideology less 
as some static 'set of ideas' than as a set of complex effects internal to 
discourse. Ideology is one crucial way in which the human subject strives to 
'suture' contradictions which rive it in its very being, constitute it to its core. 
As with Althusser, it is what produces us as social subjects in the first place, 
not simply a conceptual straightjacket into which we are subsequently 

It is worth pausing to ask of this position, however, whether ideology is 
always a matter of 'fixation'. What of the consumerist ideologies of advanced 
capitalism, in which the subject is encouraged to live provisionally, glide 
contentedly from sign to sign, revel in the rich plurality of its appetites 
and savour itself as no more than a decentred function of them? It is true 
that all this goes on within a more fundamental 'closure', one determined by 
the requirements of capital itself; but it exposes the naivety of the belief that 
ideology always and everywhere involves fixed or 'transcendental' signifiers, 
imaginary unities, metaphysical grounds and teleological goals. Post- 
structuralist thought often enough sets up ideology in this 'straw target' 
style, only to go on to confront it with the creative ambiguities of 'textuality' 
or the sliding of the signifier, but five minutes' viewing of a video or cinema 
advertisement should be enough to deconstruct this rigid binary opposition. 
Textuality', ambiguity, indeterminacy he often enough on the side of 
dominant ideological discourses themselves. The mistake springs in part 
from projecting a particular model of ideology - that of fascism and Stalinism 
- onto the quite different discourses of liberal capitalism. There is a political 
history behind this error, like the members of the Frankfurt School, certain 


Discourse and Ideology 

prominent members of the so-called Yale school of criticism, which has 
sponsored such notions, have or had political roots of one kind or another in 
that earlier European context.* Ideology, for them as for the end-of-ideology 
theorists, then comes to signify Hitler or Stalin, rather than Trump Tower or 
David Frost. 

Finally, we may note that this theory of ideology, for all its vaunted 
'materialism', betrays an incipient idealism in its heavily subject-centred 
bias. In its instructive efforts to avoid economic reductionism, it passes over 
in silence the whole classical Marxist case about the 'infrastructural' bases of 
ideology, along with the centrality of political institutions. We have seen 
earlier that we may speak of the institutions of parliamentary democracy 
themselves as, among other things, an ideological apparatus. The effects of 
these institutions, to be sure, must 'pass through' the experience of the 
subject if they are to be ideologically persuasive at all; but there is a certain 
idealism implicit in taking one's starting-point from the human subject, 
even if from a suitably 'materialized' version of it. This 'turn to the subject' 
throughout the 1970s represented at once an invaluable deepening and 
enriching of classical political theory, and a retreat on the part of the 
political left from those rather less 'subject-centred' social issues which, in a 
protracted crisis of the international capitalist system, appeared more than 
ever intractable. 

We have seen that ideology is often felt to entail a 'naturalization' of 
social reality; and this is another area in which the semiotic contribution has 
been especially illuminating. For the Roland Barthes of Mythologies (1957), 
myth (or ideology) is what transforms history into Nature by lending 
arbitrary signs an apparently obvious, unalterable set of connotations. 'Myth 
does not deny things, on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; 
simply it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and 
eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explana- 
tion but of a statement of fact' 7 The 'naturalization' thesis is here extended 
to discourse as such, rather than to the world of which it speaks. The 
'healthy' sign for Barthes is one which unashamedly displays its own 
gratuitousness, the fact that there is no internal or self-evident bond 
between itself and what it represents; and to this extent artistic modernism, 
which typically broods upon the 'unmotivated' nature of its own sign- 
systems, emerges as politically progressive. The 'unhealthy' - mythological 
or ideological - signifier is one which cunningly erases this radical lack of 
motivation, suppresses the semiotic labour which produced it, and so allows 



us to receive it as 'natural' and 'transparent', gazing through its innocent 
surface to the concept or signified to which it permits us magically 
immediate access. Literary realism, for Barthes and his disciples, is then 
exemplary of this deceptive transparency - a curiously formalist, trans- 
historical judgement on everything from Defoe to Dostoevsky, which in the 
'wilder' versions of this richly suggestive case becomes an unmitigated 
disaster which ought really never to have happened. 

It is just this spurious naturalization of language which the literary critic 
Paul de Man sees as lying at the root of all ideology. What de Man terms the 
'phenomenalist' delusion, in the words of his commentator Christopher 
Norris, is the idea that language 'can become somehow consubstantial with 
the world of natural objects and processes, and so transcend the ontological 
gulf between words (or concepts) and sensuous intuitions'. 8 Ideology is 
language which forgets the essentially contingent, accidental relations 
between itself and the world, and comes instead to mistake itself as having 
some kind of organic, inevitable bond with what it represents. For the 
essentially tragic philosophy of a de Man, mind and world, language and 
being, are eternally discrepant, and ideology is the gesture which seeks to 
conflate these quite separate orders, hunting nostalgically for a pure 
presence of the thing within the word, and so imbuing meaning with all the 
sensuous positivity of natural being. Ideology strives to bridge verbal 
concepts and sensory intuitions; but the force of truly critical (or 
'deconstractive') thought is to demonstrate how the insidiously figural, 
rhetorical nature of discourse will always intervene to break up this felici- 
tous marriage. 'What we call ideology', de Man observes in The Resistance to 
Theory, 'is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of 
reference with phenomenalism.' 9 One might find exemplary instances of 
such a confusion in the thought of the later Heidegger, for whom certain 
words allow us a privileged access to 'Being'; in the contemporaneous 
literary criticism of F.R. Leavis; and in the poetry of Seamus Heaney. The 
flaw of this theory, as in the case of Barthes, lies in its unargued assumption 
that all ideological discourse operates by such naturalization - a contention 
we have already seen reason to doubt. As often in the critique of ideology, 
one particular paradigm of ideological consciousness is surreptitiously made 
to do service for the whole varied array of ideological forms and devices. 
There are styles of ideological discourse other than the 'organicist' - the 
thought of Paul de Man, for example, whose gloomy insistence that mind 
and world can never harmoniously meet is among other things a coded 


Discourse and Ideology 

refusal of the 'utopianism' of emancipatory politics. 

It belongs to a post-structuralist or postmodernist perspective to see all 
discourse as traced through by the play of power and desire, and thus to view 
all language as ineradicably rhetorical. We should be properly suspicious of 
too hard-and-fast a distinction between some scrupulously neutral, purely 
informative sort of speech act, and those 'performative' pieces of language 
which are clearly engaged in cursing, cajoling, seducing, persuading and so 
on. Telling someone the time of day is as much a 'performative' as telling 
them to get lost, and no doubt involves some inscrutable play of power and 
desire for any analyst with enough useless ingenuity to pursue the matter. 
All discourse is aimed at the production of certain effects in its recipients, 
and is launched from some tendentious 'subject position'; and to this extent 
we might conclude with the Greek Sophists that everything we say is really a 
matter of rhetorical performance within which questions of truth or 
cognition are strictly subordinate. If this is so, then all language is 'ideo- 
logical', and the category of ideology, expanded to breaking-point, once more 
collapses. One might add that the production of this effect is precisely part 
of the ideological intention of those who claim that 'everything is rhetorical'. 

It is, however, a simple sleight-of-hand, or sheer intellectual disingen- 
uousness, to imagine that all language is rhetorical to exacdy the same 
degree. Once again, postmodernist 'pluralism' here stands convicted of 
violently homogenizing quite different sorts of speech act The assertion 'It's 
five o'clock' certainly involves interests of a kind, springing as it does from a 
particular way of slicing up temporality, and belonging as it does to some 
intersubjective context (that of telling someone the time) which is never 
innocent of authority. But it is merely perverse to imagine that such an 
utterance, in most circumstances at least, is as 'interested' as stating that by 
five o'clock all historical materialists must be washed in the blood of the 
Lamb or face instant execution. Someone who writes a doctoral thesis on the 
relations between race and social class in South Africa is by no means 
disinterested; why bother, for one thing, to write it in the first place? But 
such a piece of work normally differs from statements such as The white 
man will never surrender his heritage' in that it is open to being disproved. 
Indeed this is part of what we mean by a 'scientific' hypothesis, as opposed to 
a groan of alarm or a stream of invective. The pronouncement The white 
man will never surrender his heritage' appears as though it could be 
disproved, since it could be obtusely taken as a sociological prediction; but to 
take it this way would of course be wholly to miss its ideological force. 



There is no need to imagine that to enforce a working distinction between 
these two discursive genres is to surrender to the myth of some 'scientific 
disinterestedness' - a fantasy which no interesting philosopher of science has 
anyway entertained for the past half-century. The humanist's traditional 
patrician disdain for scientific enquiry is not rendered particularly more 
plausible by being dressed up in glamorously avant-garde guise. 

If all language articulates specific interests, then it would appear that all 
language is ideological But as we have seen already, the classical concept of 
ideology is by no means limited to "interested discourse', or to the produc- 
tion of suasive effects. It refers more precisely to the processes whereby 
interests of a certain kind become masked, rationalized, naturalized, 
universalized, legitimated in the name of certain forms of political power, 
and much is to be politically lost by dissolving these vital discursive 
strategies into some undifferentiated, amorphous category of 'interests'. To 
claim that all language is at some level rhetorical is thus not the same as to 
claim that all language is ideological. As John Plamenatz points out in his 
work Ideology, someone who shouts 'Fire!' in a theatre is not engaging in 
ideological discourse. A mode of discourse may encode certain interests, for 
example, but may not be particularly intent on directly promoting or legiti- 
mating them; and the interests in question may in any case have no crucially 
relevant relation to the sustaining of a whole social order. Again, the 
interests at stake may not be in the least 'false' or specious ones, whereas we 
have seen that, for some theories of ideology at least, this would need to be 
so for a discourse to be dubbed ideological. Those who today press the 
sophistical case that all language is rhetorical, like Stanley Fish in Doing What 
Comes Naturally, are quite ready to acknowledge that the discourse in which 
they frame this case is nothing but a case of special pleading too; but if a Fish 
is genially prepared to admit that his own theorizing is a bit of rhetoric, he is 
notably more reluctant to concede that it is a piece of ideology. For to do this 
would involve reflecting on the political ends which such an argument 
serves in the content of Western capitalist society; and Fish is not prepared to 
widen his theoretical focus to encompass such embarrassing questions. 
Indeed his response would no doubt have to be that he is himself so 
thoroughly a product of that society - which is undoubtedly true - that he is 
quite unable to reflect on his own social determinants - which is un- 
doubtedly false. 

It is via the category of 'discourse' that a number of theorists over recent 


Discourse and Ideology 

years have made the steady trek from erstwhile revolutionary political 
positions to left reformist ones. This phenomenon is generally known as 
'post-Marxism'; and it is worth inquiring into the logic of this long march 
from Saussure to social democracy. 

In a number of works of political theory, 10 the English sociologists Paul 
Hirst and Barry Hindess firmly reject the kind of classical epistemology 
which assumes some match or 'correspondence' between our concepts and 
the way the world is. For if 'the way the world is' is itself always conceptually 
defined, then this age-old philosophical case would appear to be viciously 
circular. It is a rationalist fallacy, so Hindess and Hirst argue, to hold that 
what enables us to know is the fact that the world takes the shape of a 
concept - that it is somehow conveniently pre-structured to fit our cog- 
nition of it. As for a Paul de Man, there is no such congruence or internal 
bond between mind and reality, and so no privileged epistemological language 
which could allow us untroubled access to the real. For to determine that 
this language adequately measured the fit or non-fit between our concepts 
and the world, we would presumably need another language to guarantee 
the adequacy of this one, and so on in a potentially infinite regress of 
'metalanguages'. Rather, objects should be considered not as external to a 
realm of discourse which seeks to approximate them, but as wholly internal 
to such discourses, constituted by them through and through. 

This position - though Hindess and Hirst do not say so, perhaps being 
nervous or unaware of the fact - is a thoroughly Nietzschean one. There is 
no given order in reality at all, which for Nietzsche is just ineffable chaos; 
meaning is just whatever we arbitrarily construct by our acts of sense- 
making. The world does not spontaneously sort itself out into kinds, causal 
hierarchies, discrete spheres, as a philosophical realist would imagine; on the 
contrary, it is we who do all this by talking about it. Our language does not 
so much reflect reality as signify it, carve it into conceptual shape. The answer, 
then, to what exacdy is being carved into conceptual shape is impossible to 
give: reality itself, before we come to constitute it through our discourses, is 
just some inarticulable x 

It is hard to know quite how far this anti-realist case can be pressed. 
Nobody believes that the world sorts itself into shape, independently of our 
descriptions of it, in the sense that the literary superiority of Arthur Hugh 
Clough to Alfred Lord Tennyson is just a 'given' distinction inscribed in 
reality before time began, grandly autonomous of anything we might come 
to say about the issue. But it seems plausible to believe that there is a given 



distinction between wine and wallabies, and that to be unclear on this point 
might be the occasion of some frustration on the part of someone looking 
for a drink. There may well be societies for which these things signify 
something entirely at odds with what they signify for us, or even certain 
bizarre cultural systems which saw no occasion to mark the distinction at all. 
But this does not mean that they would stock their off-licences with 
wallabies or encourage children to feed botdes of wine in their zoos. It is 
certainly true that we ourselves may not distinguish between certain sorts of 
plant which for another culture are uniquely different. But it would be 
impossible for an anthropologist to stumble upon a society which registered 
no distinction between water and sulphuric acid, since they would all be 
long in their graves. 

Similarly, it is difficult to know how hard to press the case that our 
discourses do not reflect real causal connections in reality - an empiricist 
doctrine which a good many post-Marxists have rather surprisingly 
appropriated. It is certainly arguable that the Marxist claim that economic 
activity finally determines the shape of a society is just a causal relation 
which Marxists, for their own political reasons, want to construct, rather 
than a hierarchy already inscribed in the world waiting to be discovered. It is 
somewhat less persuasive to claim that the apparent causal relation between 
my lunging at you with a scimitar and your head dropping instandy to the 
ground is just one discursively constructed for particular ends. 

Hindess and Hirst's 'anti-epistemological' thesis is intended among other 
things to undermine the Marxist doctrine that a social formation is 
composed of different 'levels', some of which exert more significant deter- 
minacy than others. For them, this is merely another instance of the ration- 
alist illusion, which would view society as somehow already internally 
structured along the lines of the concepts by which we appropriate it in 
thought. There is, then, no such thing as a 'social totality', and no such thing 
as one sort of social activity being in general or in principle more deter- 
minant or causally privileged than another. The relations between the 
political, cultural, economic and the rest are ones we fashion for specific 
political ends within given historical contexts; they are in no sense relations 
which subsist independendy of our discourse. Once again, it is not easy to 
see just how far this case should be extended. Does it mean, for instance, that 
we cannot in principle rule out the possibility that the Bolshevik revolution 
was triggered by Bogdanov's asthma or Radek's penchant for pork pies? If 
there are no causal hierarchies in reality, why should this not be so? What is 


Discourse and Ideology 

it which constrains our discursive constructions? It cannot be 'reality', for that 
is simply a product of them; in which case it might appear that we are free, in 
some voluntarist fantasy, to weave any network of relations which strikes our 
fancy. It is clear in any case that what began as an argument about 
epistemology has now shifted to an opposition to revolutionary politics; for 
if the Marxist doctrine of 'last-instance' economic determinacy is discarded, 
then much in traditional revolutionary discourse will need to be radically 
revised. In place of this 'global' brand of analysis, Hindess and Hirst urge 
instead the pragmatic calculation of political effects within some particular 
social conjuncture, which is a good deal more palatable to Mr Neil Kinnock 
This theory, coincidentally enough, was sponsored just at the historical point 
where the radical currents of the 1960s and early 1970s were beginning to 
ebb under the influence of an aggressive set of assaults from the political 
right. In this sense, it was a 'conjunctural' position in more senses than it 

The thesis that objects are entirely internal to the discourses which 
constitute them raises the thorny problem of how we could ever judge that a 
discourse had constructed its object validly. How can anyone, on this theory, 
ever be wrong? If there can be no meta-language to measure the 'fir* 
between my language and the object, what is to stop me from constructing 
the object in any way I want? Perhaps the internal rigour and consistency of 
my arguments is the litmus test here; but magic and Satanism, not to speak 
of Thomistic theology, are perfecdy capable of constructing their objects in 
internally coherent ways. Moreover, they may always produce effects which 
somebody, from some vantage-point somewhere, may judge to be politically 
beneficial. But if meta-language is an illusion, then there would seem no 
way of judging that any particular political perspective was more beneficial 
than any other. The pragmatist move here, in other words, simply pushes the 
question back a step: if what validates my social interpretations are the 
political ends they serve, how am I to validate these ends? Or am I just 
forced back here, aggressively and dogmatically, on asserting my interests 
over yours, as Nietzsche would have urged? For Hindess and Hirst, there can 
be no way of countering an objectionable political case by an appeal to the way 
things are with society, for the way things are is just the way you construct 
them to be. You must appeal instead to your political ends and interests - 
which means that it is now these, not the distinction between wine and 
wallabies, which are somehow sheerly 'given'. They cannot be derived from 
social reality, since social reality derives from them, and they are therefore 



bound to remain as mysteriously unfathered and self-referential as the work 
of art for a whole tradition of classical aesthetics. 

Where interests derive from, in other words, is as opaque a matter for 
post-Marxism as where babies come from is for the small infant. The 
traditional Marxist case has been that political interests derive from one's 
location within the social relations of class-society, but this for post- 
Marxism would seem to entail the unSaussurean assumption that our 
political discourses 'reflect' or 'correspond' to something else. If our 
language is not just some passive reflection of reality, but actively constitu- 
tive of it, then this surely cannot be so. It cannot be that your place within a 
mode of production furnishes you with certain objective interests which 
your political and ideological discourses then simply 'express'. There can be 
no 'objective' interests spontaneously 'given' by reality, once again, interests 
are what we construct, and politics in this sense has the edge over economics. 

That social interests do not lie around the place like slabs of concrete 
waiting to be stumbled over may be cheerfully conceded. There is no reason 
to suppose, as Hindess and Hirst rightly argue, that the mere occupancy of 
some place within society will automatically supply you with an appropriate 
set of political beliefs and desires, as the fact that by no means all women are 
feminists would readily attest. Social interests are indeed in no sense 
independent of anything we come to do or say; they are not some given 
'signified', which has then merely to discover its appropriate signifier or 
mode of ideological discourse to come into its own. But this is not the only 
way of understanding the concept of 'objective interests'. Imagine an 
objective location within the social formation known as third galley slave 
from the front on the starboard side. This location brings along with it 
certain responsibilities, such as rowing non-stop for fifteen hours at a stretch 
and sending up a feeble chant of praise to the Emperor on the hour. To say 
that this social location comes readily inscribed with a set of interests is just 
to say that anyone who found himself occupying it would do well to get out 
of it, and that this would be no mere whim or quirk on his part. It is not 
necessarily to claim that this thought would spontaneously occur to a galley 
slave as soon as he had sat down, or to rule out the odd masochist who took a 
grisly relish in the whole affair and tried to row faster than the others. The 
view that the slave, ceteris paribus, would do well to escape is not one that 
springs from some God's-eye viewpoint beyond all social discourse; on the 
contrary, it is more likely to spring from the viewpoint of the League of 
Escaped Galley Slaves. There is no interest in question here that nobody 


Discourse and Ideology 

could ever conceivably come to know about When the galley slave engages 
in a spot of critical self-reflection, such as muttering to himself 'this is one 
hell of a job', then he might reasonably be said to be articulating in his 
discourse an objective interest, in the sense that he means that it is one hell 
of a job not just for him but for anyone whatsoever. There is no divine 
guarantee that the slave will arrive at the conclusion that there might be 
more agreeable ways of passing his time, or that he will not view his task as 
just retribution for the crime of existing, or as a creative contribution to the 
greater good of the empire. To say that he has an objective interest in 
emancipating himself is just to say that if he does feel this way, then he is 
labouring under the influence of false consciousness. It is to claim, 
moreover, that in certain optimal conditions - conditions relatively free of 
such coercion and mystification - the slave could be brought to recognize 
this fact He would acknowledge that it was in fact in his interests to escape 
even before he came to realize this, and this is part of what he is now 

The galley slave might be instructed by the odd discourse theorist he 
encountered at various ports of call that the interests he had now begun to 
articulate were in no sense a mere passive reflection of social reality, and he 
would do well to take this point seriously. He would no doubt appreciate the 
force of it already, recalling the long years during which he held the view 
that being lashed to ribbons by the emperor's captain was an honour ill- 
befitting a worm such as himself, and remembering the painful inner 
struggle which brought him to his current, more enlightened opinions. He 
might well be brought to understand that 'oppression' is a discursive affair, 
in the sense that one condition is identifiable as oppressive only by contrast 
with some other less or non-oppressive state of affairs, and that all this is 
cognizable only through discourse. Oppression, in short, is a normative 
concept someone is being oppressed not simply if they drag out a wretched 
existence, but if certain creative capacities they could feasibly realize are 
being actively thwarted by the unjust interests of others. And none of this 
can be determined other than discursively; you could not decide that a situa- 
tion was oppressive simply by looking at a photograph of it. The galley slave, 
however, would no doubt be churlishly unimpressed by the suggestion that 
all this meant that he was not 'really' oppressed at all. He would be unlikely 
to greet such a judgement with the light-hearted playfulness beloved of 
some postmodernist theorists. Instead, he would doubtless insist that while 
what was in question here was certainly an interpretation, and thus always in 



principle controvertible, what the interpretation enforced was th.c fact that 
this situation was oppressive. 

Post-Marxism is given to denying that there is any necessary relation 
between one's socio-economic location and one's politico-ideological 
interests. In the case of our galley slave, this claim is clearly false. It is 
certainly true, as post-Marxism properly insists, that the slave's politico- 
ideological position is not just some 'reflex' of his material conditions. But 
his ideological views do indeed have an internal relation to that condition - 
not in the sense that this condition is the automatic cause of them, but in the 
sense that it is the reason for them. Sitting for fifteen hours a day in the third 
row from the front is what his ideological opinions are about What he says is 
about what he does; and what he does is the reason for what he says. The 
'real' here certainly exists prior to and independent of the slave's discourse, if 
by the 'real' is meant that specific set of practices which provide the reason 
for what he says, and form the referent of it That these practices will be 
interpretatively transformed when the slave arrives at his emancipatory 
views is doubtless true; he will be led to theoretically revise those conditions 
in a quite different light. This is the kernel of truth of the post-Marxist case: 
that 'signifiers', or the means of political and ideological representation, are 
always active in respect of what they signify. It is in this sense that politico- 
ideological interests are not just the obedient, spontaneous expression of 
'given' socio-economic conditions. What is represented is never some 'brute' 
reality, but will be moulded by the practice of representation itself. Political 
and ideological discourses thus produce their own signifieds, conceptualize 
the situation in specific ways. 

It is only a short step from here - a step which Hindess and Hirst rashly 
take - to imagining that the whole socio-economic situation in question is 
simply defined by political and ideological interests, with no reality beyond 
this. Semiotically speaking, Hindess and Hirst have merely inverted the 
empiricist model: whereas in empiricist thought the signifier is thought to 
follow spontaneously from the signified - in the sense that the world 
instructs us, so to speak, in how to represent it - it is now a question of the 
signified following obediently from the signifier. The situation is just 
whatever political and ideological discourses define it as being. But this is to 
conflate economic and political interests just as drastically as the most vulgar 
Marxism. For the fact is that there are economic interests, such as desiring 
better pay or conditions of work, which may not yet have achieved political 
articulation And such interests can be inflected in a whole number of 


Discourse and Ideology 

conflicting political ways. As well as merely inverting the relation between 
signified and signified, Hindess and Hirst thus also effect a fatal semiotic 
confusion between signified and referent. For the referent here is the whole 
socio-economic situation, the interests contained in which are then signified 
in different ways by politics and ideology, but are not simply identical with 

Whether 'economies' gives rise to 'polities', or vice versa as post-Marxism 
would hold, the relationship in both cases is essentially causal. Lurking 
behind the post-Marxist view is the Saussurean notion of the signifier as 
'producing' the signified. But this semiotic model is in fact quite inadequate 
for an understanding of the relation between material situations and 
ideological discourse. Ideology neither legislates such situations into being, 
nor is simply 'caused' by them; rather, ideology offers a set of reasons for such 
material conditions. Hindess and Hirst, in short, overlook the legitimating 
functions of ideology, distracted as they are by a causal model which merely 
stands vulgar Marxism on its head. The relation between an object and its 
means of representation is crucially not the same as that between a material 
practice and its ideological legitimation or mystification. Hindess and Hirst 
fail to spot this because of the undifferentiated, all-inclusive nature of their 
concept of discourse. Discourse for them 'produces' real objects; and 
ideological language is therefore just one way in which these objects get 
constituted. But this simply fails to identify the specificity of such language, 
which is not just any way of constituting reality, but one with the more 
particular functions of explaining, rationalizing, concealing, legitimating 
and so on. Two meanings of discourse are falsely conflated: those which are 
said to constitute our practices, and those in which we talk about them. 
Ideology, in short, goes to work on the 'real' situation in transformative ways; 
and it is ironic in one sense that a pair of theorists so eager to stress the 
activity of the signifier should overlook this. In another sense, it is not ironic 
at all: for if our discourses are constitutive of our practices, then there would 
seem no enabling distance between the two in which this transformative 
labour could occur. And to speak of a transformative labour here implies 
that something pre-exists this process; some referent, something worked upon, 
which cannot be the case if the signifier simply conjures the 'real' situation 
into being. 

What is being implicitly challenged by Hindess and Hirst is nothing 
short of the whole concept of representation. For the idea of representation 
would suggest that the signified exists prior to its signifier, and is then 



obediently reflected by ir, and this, once more, runs against the grain of 
Saussurean semiotics. But in righdy rejecting an empiricist ideology of 
representation, they mistakenly believe themselves to have disposed of the 
notion as such Nobody is much enamoured these days of an idea of 
representation in which the signified spontaneously puts forth its own 
signifier, in which some organic bond is imagined to exist between the two, 
so that the signified can be represented only in this way, and in which the 
signifier in no sense alters the signified, but remains a neutral, transparent 
medium of expression. Many post-Marxists accordingly abandon the whole 
term 'representation', while around them the benighted masses continue to 
speak of a photograph of a chipmunk as , representing , a chipmunk, or a set 
of interlinked circles as 'representing' the Olympic games. There is no 
reason to imagine that the complex conventions involved in associating an 
image with its referent are adequately explained by the empiricist version of 
the process, and no need to throw up trying to give an account of the former 
simply because the latter model has been discredited. The term 'representa- 
tion' has perfecdy valid uses, as the populace, if not some post-Marxists, are 
well aware; it is just a trickier cultural practice than the empiricists used to 

The reason why Hindess and Hirst wish to jettison the whole notion of 
representation is by no means ideologically innocent They wish to do so 
because they want to deny the classical Marxist contention that there exists 
some internal relation between particular socio-economic conditions, and 
specific kinds of political or ideological positions. They therefore argue 
either that socio-economic interests are just the product of political and 
ideological ones, or that the two lie on quite different levels, with no neces- 
sary linkage between them. Semiotics, once more, is a kind of politics - since 
if this is so, then many traditional Marxist theses about the socialist trans- 
formation of society being necessarily in the interests of the working class 
would need to be scrapped. Saussurean linguistics is once more craftily 
harnessed to the cause of social reformism - a cause rendered more reput- 
able than it might otherwise appear by its glamorous association with 
'discourse theory'. 

The constructive side of Hindess and Hirst's case is that there are a good 
many political interests which are by no means necessarily tied to class 
situations, and that classical Marxism has often enough lamentably ignored 
this truth. Such non-class political movements were gathering force in the 
1970s, and the writings of the post-Marxists are among other things a 


Discourse and Ideology 

creative theoretical response to this fact. Even so, the move of severing all 
necessary link between social situations and political interests, intended as a 
generous opening to these fresh developments, in fact does them a dis- 
service. Consider, for example, the case of the women's movement. It is 
certainly true that there is no organic relation between feminist politics and 
social class, pace those Marxist reductionists who struggle vainly to funnel 
the former into the latter. But there is a good case for arguing that there is 
indeed an internal relation between being a woman (a social situation) and 
being a feminist (a political position). This is not, needless to say, to claim 
that all women will spontaneously become feminists; but it is to argue that 
they ought to do so, and that an unmystified understanding of their 
oppressed social condition would logically lead them in that direction. Just 
the same is true of the other non-class political currents astir in the 1970s: it 
seems odd to assert, for example, that there is a purely contingent connec- 
tion between being part of an oppressed ethnic minority and becoming 
active in anti-racist politics. The relation between the two is not 'necessary' 
in the sense of natural, automatic or ineluctable; but it is, in Saussure's terms, 
a 'motivated' rather than purely arbitrary one even so. 

To suggest that someone ought to adopt a particular political position may 
sound peculiarly patronizing, dictatorial and elitist Who am I to presume 
that I know what is in someone else's interests? Isn't this just the style in 
which ruling groups and classes have spoken for centuries? The plain fact is 
that 1 am in full possession of my own interests, and nobody can tell me 
what to do. I am entirely transparent to myself, have an utterly unmystified 
view of my social conditions, and will tolerate no kind of suggestion, 
however comradely and sympathetic its tone, from anybody else. I do not 
need telling by some paternal elitist about what is in my 'objective' interests, 
because as a matter of fact I never behave in a way which violates them. Even 
though I eat twelve pounds of sausages a day, smoke sixty cigarettes before 
noon and have just volunteered for a fifty percent wage cut, I resent the idea 
that I have anything to learn from anyone. Those who tell me that I am 
'mystified', just because I spend my weekends gardening free of charge for 
the local squire, are simply trying to put me down with their pretentious 

As far as the relation between social interests and ideological beliefs go, 
we saw in chapter 2 that they were in fact extremely variable. No simple, 
single homology is at stake here: ideological beliefs may signify material 
interests, disavow, rationalize or dissemble them, run counter to them, and 



so on. For the monistic thinking of a Hindess and Hint, however, there can 
only ever be one fixed, invariable relation between them: no relation 
whatsoever. It is true that in their astonishingly repetitive texts the dis- 
ingenuous word 'necessary' occasionally slides into this formulation: in a 
whole series of slippages, they glide from arguing that political and 
ideological forms cannot be conceived of as the direct representation of class 
interests, to daiming that there is no necessary relation between the two, to 
suggesting that there is no connection between them at all. There can be no 
justification', they write, 'for a "reading" of politics and ideology for the class 
interests they are alleged to represent . . . political and ideological struggles 
cannot be conceived as the struggles of economic classes.' 11 The theoretical 
strategem is plain enough: feminist, ethnic or ecological politics are 
obviously not internally related to class interests, in which case neither. are 
socialism or Toryism. 

Here, as in almost all of their arguments, Hindess and Hirst theatrically 
overreact to reductionistic forms of Marxism. Their whole discourse is one 
prolonged bending of the stick in the other direction, recklessly exaggerating 
what is otherwise a valuably corrective case. If the relations between 
ideological forms and social interests are not eternally fixed and given, why 
should one dogmatically rule out the possibility that some types of 
ideological discourse may be more closely tied to such interests than others? 
Why limit one's pluralism in this self-denying way? What self-imposed, a 
priori restrictive practice is at work here? If it is true that there is no 
'motivated' relation between being, say, a petty-bourgeois intellectual and 
opposing fascism, does it follow that there is no such relation either between 
puritan ideology and the early bourgeoisie, anti-imperialist beliefs and the 
experience of colonialism, or socialism and a lifetime's unemployment? Are 
all such relations as arbitrary as being an anti-Semite and an abstract 
expressionist simultaneously? 'Political practice', they comment, 'does not 
recognise class interests and then represent them: it constitutes the interests 
which it represents." 2 If this means that the 'signifier' of political practice is 
active in respect of the 'signified' of social interests, modifying and 
transforming them by its interventions, then it is hard to see why one would 
want to deny such a case. If it means - to return to our example of the galley 
slave - that this man has no interests whatsoever relevant to his class position 
before political discourses moved in to articulate them, then it is clearly 
false. The slave had indeed a whole cluster of interests associated with his 
material situation - interests in snatching a little rest from time to time, not 


Discourse and Ideology 

gratuitously antagonizing his superiors, sitting behind a somewhat bulkier 
slave to win a little protection from the sun, and so on. It is just these sorts of 
material interests which his political and ideological discourse, when he 
acquires it, will go to work upon, elaborating, cohering and transforming 
them in various ways; and in this sense material interests undoubtedly exist 
prior to and independent of politico-ideological ones. The material situation 
is the referent of the slave's political discourse, not the signified of it - if by this 
we are supposed to believe that it is wholly produced by it Hindess and Hirst 
fear that to deny that the slave's unenviable condition is the product of a 
politico-ideological language is to imagine that it is then just a 'brute' fact, 
independent of discourse altogether. But this apprehension is quite needless. 
There is no non-discursive way in which the slave can decide not to 
antagonize his superiors; his 'real' situation is inseparably bound up with 
linguistic interpretation of one kind or another. It is just a mistake to run 
together these kinds of interpretation, inscribed in everything we do, with 
those specific forms of discourse which allow us to criticize, rationalize, 
suppress, explain or transform our conditions of life. 

We have seen that Hindess and Hirst reject the idea that political interests 
represent pre-given social or economic ones. They still use the term 
representation; but the signifier now entirely constitutes what it signifies. 
This means, in effect, that they have come up not with the theory of 
representation but with a philosophy of identity. Representation or 
signification depends on a difference between what presents and what is 
presented: one reason why a photograph of a chipmunk represents a chip- 
munk is because it is not the actual animal. If the photograph somehow 
constituted the chipmunk - if, in some Berkeleyan fantasy, the creature had 
no existence until it was snapped by the camera - it would not act as a 
representation of it. Much the same goes for Hindess and Hirst's talk of the 
political/ideological and the social/economic If the former actually fashion 
the latter then they are at one with them, and there can be no talk of 
representation here at all. The two become as indissoluble as a word and its 
meaning. The semiotic model which governs their thinking here, mislead- 
ingly, is thus the Saussurean one between signifier and signified, or word and 
concept, rather than that between sign and referent 

The upshot of this drastic swerve from economism - which would hold 
that the political/ideological passively and directly represents class interests - 
is an overpoliticization. It is now politics, not economics, which reigns 



supreme. And taken in any crassly literal sense, this case is simply absurd. 
Are we being asked to believe that the reason some people vote Conservative 
is not because they are afraid a Labour government might nationalize their 
property, but that their regard for their property is created by the act of 
voting Conservative? Does a proletarian have an interest in securing better 
living conditions only because she is already a socialist? On this argument, it 
becomes impossible to say what politics is actually about. There is no 'raw 
material' on which politics and ideology go to work, since social interests are 
the product of them, not what they take off from. Politics and ideology thus 
become purely self-constituting, tautological practices. It is impossible to say 
where they derive from; they simply drop from the skies, like any other 
transcendental signifer. 

If the working class has no interests derived from its socio-economic 
conditions, then there is nothing in this class to resist its being politically or 
ideologically 'constructed' in various ways. All that resists my own political 
construction of the class is someone else's. The working class, or for that 
matter any other subordinate group, thus becomes clay in the hands of those 
wishing to coopt it into some political strategy, tugged this way and that 
between socialists and fascists. If socialism is not necessarily in the workers' 
interests, since the workers in fact have no interests outside those they are 
'constructed' into, why on earth should they bother to become socialists? It 
is not in their interests now to become so, since nothing in their concrete 
conditions would intimate this; they will become socialists only when their 
present identities have been transformed by the process of becoming 
socialist. But how would they ever come to embark on this process? For 
there is nothing in their conditions now which provides the slightest 
motivation for it The future political selves they might attain have no 
relation whatsoever to their present socio-economic ones. There is merely a 
blank disjunction between them, as there is for those Humean philosophers 
for whom what I was at the age of twenty has no relation at all to what I 
shall be at the age of sixty. 

Why, in any case, should someone become a socialist, feminist or anti- 
racist, if these political interests are in no sense a response to the way society 
is? (For society, let us recall, is in Hindess and Hirst's view no way at all, until 
it has come to be politically constructed in a certain manner.) Of course, 
once Hindess and Hirst begin to spell out why they themselves are socialists 
they will find themselves ineluctably referring to something very like 'the 
way society is'; but strictly speaking this notion is inadmissable to them. 


Discourse and Ideology 

Radical politics thus becomes a kind of moral option, ungrounded in any 
actual state of affairs; and these rigorous post-Althusserians accordingly 
lapse into that humanistic heresy known to Marxism as 'moralism'. Some 
people, it appears, just are feminists or socialists, as others are UFO buffs; 
and their aim is to 'construct' other groups or classes in ways which strate- 
gically further these interests, despite the fact that there is no 'given' reason 
why these groups or classes should take the least interest in the project 

Alert to these and other problems, the post-Marxist Ernesto Laclau and 
Chantal Mouffe offer us in their Hegemony and Socialist Strategy™ a suitably 
modified version of the Hindess and Hirst case. Laclau and Mouffe entirely 
endorse Hindess and Hirst's doctrine that, in the words of the former pair, 
there is 'no logical connection whatsoever' (84) between class position and 
the political/ideological. This means, presumably, that it is wholly co- 
incidental that all capitalists are not also revolutionary socialists. Laclau and 
Mouffe also observe that 'hegemony supposes the construction of the very 
identity of [the] social agents [being hegemonized]' (58), a formulation 
which leaves the question of what is being 'constructed' here hanging in the 
air. Either this statement means that there are no social agents at all until the 
process of political hegemony creates them, in which case hegemony is a 
circular, self-referential affair, which like a work of literary fiction secretly 
fashions the reality it claims to be at work upon. Or it means that there are 
existing social agents, but the process of hegemony lends them an entirely 
different identity all of its own - in which case, as we have seen, it is hard to 
know why these agents should be in the least motivated to leap the abyss 
between their current and putative selves. 

Whereas Hindess and Hirst would abrupdy sever all 'necessary' links 
between social conditions and political interests, Laclau and Mouffe, while 
endorsing this move, paint a more nuanced picture. There may be no logical 
relation between these two realms; but that does not mean, a la Hindess and 
Hirst, that political and ideological forms simply bring socio-economic 
interests into existence, for this, as Laclau and Mouffe shrewdly recognize, is 
merely to lapse back into the very ideology of identity which post-Marxism 
seeks to escape. If the various elements of social life - those groups, so to 
speak, awaiting the event of being hegemonized into a radical political 
strategy - do not retain a certain contingency and identity of their own, then 
the practice of hegemony simply means fusing them together into a new 
kind of closed totality. In that case, the unifying principle of the social whole 
is no longer 'the economy' but the hegemonizing force itself which stands 



in a quasi-transcendental relation to the 'social elements' on which it goes to 
work Laclau and Mouffe accordingly insert some cautious qualifications. As 
we have seen, their position is that hegemony constructs - presumably 
'totally' - the very identity of the agents or elements in question; but 
elsewhere in their text the hegemonic representation 'modifies' (58) or 
'contributes to' (110) the social interests represented, which would imply that 
they exert some weight and autonomy of their own. Elsewhere, in a notable 
equivocation, they suggest that the identity of the elements is 'at least 
partially modified' (107) by their hegemonic articulation - a phrase in which 
everything hangs on that evasive little 'at least'. At another point, the authors 
claim that once social agents have been politically hegemonized, their 
identity ceases to be 'exclusively' (58) constituted through their social 

The dilemma is surely clear. It seems peculiarly arrogant and appropriative 
to argue that, say, once a group of oppressed women are 'hegemonized' - 
made part of some broader political strategy - their identities as they exist 
now will be entirely submerged in this process. What they will be then has 
no relation to what they are right now. If this is so, then the hegemonizing 
process appears every bit as imperious and all-totalizing as 'the economy' 
was for 'vulgar' Marxism. But if too much weight is accorded to the kinds of 
interests such women have now, in their 'pre-hegemonized' condition, then 
- so post-Marxism fears - one is in danger of falling back into an empiricist 
model of representation, in which political/ideological discourses simply 
'reflect' or passively 'represent' pre-constituted social interests. Laclau and 
Mouffe steer niftily between this particular Scylla and Charybdis, but the 
strain of the operation betrays itself in the textual inconsistencies of their 
work. Striving for some middle ground, the authors seek neither a total 
separation between the two spheres in question, nor a Hindess-and-Hirstian 
conflation of them. They insist instead on a 'tension' between the two, in 
which the economic is and is not present in the political, and vice-versa. But 
their text continues to hesitate symptomatically between the 'extreme' view 
that the signifier fashions the signified entirely - political hegemony 
constructs 'the very identity' of social agents - and the more temperate case 
that the means of politico-ideological representation have an effect on the 
social interests they represent. In other words: the logic of Laclau and 
Mouffe's politics - their proper concern to safeguard the 'relative autonomy' 
of the specific social interests of women, ethnic groups and so on - is not 
entirely at one with the logic of a full-blooded post-structuralist theory 


Discourse and Ideology 

which would recognize no 'given* reality beyond the omnipotent sway of the 

Hegemony and Socialist Strategy is at least unequivocal in its curt rejection of 
the whole concept of 'objective interests', which it can make no sense of at 
all. But this is only because it subscribes implicidy to a wholly untenable 
version of the idea, and then quite understandably goes on to reject it For 
Laclau and Mouffe, objective interests means something like interests 
automatically supplied to you by your place in the relations of production; 
and they are of course quite right to dismiss this notion out of hand as a 
form of economic reducrionism. But we have seen already that there are 
more interesting ways of framing the concept An objective interest means, 
among other things, a course of action which is in fact in my interests but 
which I currently do not recognize as such. If this notion is unintelligible, 
then it would seem to follow that I am always in perfect and absolute posses- 
sion of my own interests, which is clearly nonsense. There is no need to fear 
that objective interests somehow exist outside social discourse altogether; 
the phrase just alludes to valid, discursively framed interests which do not 
exist for me right now. Once I have acquired such interests, however, 1 am 
able to look back on my previous condition and recognize that what 1 
believe and desire now is what 1 would have believed and desired then if 
only 1 had been in a position to do so. And being in a position to do so means 
being free of the coercion and mystification which in fact prevented me at 
the time from acknowledging what would be beneficial for me. Note that 
there is both continuity and discontinuity, identity and difference, at work 
here: what I am now is not what 1 was then, but I can see that I should have 
been clamouring then for what I am struggling for now, if only I had 
understood my circumstances better. This case thus runs counter both to the 
view that I am always self-identical, always secretly in possession of my own 
best interests, and to the 'discontinuous' case that what I am now, as a 
politically self-aware being, has nothing whatsoever to do with what I was 
when my best interests were unclear to me. In overreacting to the former 
fantasy, post-Marxism is at grave risk of lapsing into the latter, politically 
fruitless position. 

What makes a political radical attempt to hegemonize one social group 
rather than another? The answer, surely, can only be because she had 
decided that the 'given' situation of this group, appropriately interpreted and 
transformed, is of relevance to the radical project If monopoly capitalists 
have no interests independent of the way they are politically articulated, 



then there would seem no reason at all why the political left should not 
expend enormous resources of energy in seeking to win them to its 
programme. The fact that we do not is because we consider that the given 
social interests of this class make them a good deal less likely to become 
socialists than, say, the unemployed. It is not in the given interests of men to 
become feminists (although it is certainly in their long-term ones), and this 
fact has clear political consequences: it means that feminists should not 
spend too much of their precious political time trying to win men over, 
though neither should they look the odd gift horse in the mouth. The 
question of what weight one allots to 'given' interests - or whether they exist 
at all - is thus of vital relevance to practical politics. If there is no 'necessary* 
relation between women and feminism, or the working class and socialism, 
then the upshot would be a disastrously eclectic, opportunistic politics, 
which simply drew into its project whatever social groups seemed currently 
most amenable to it. There would be no good reason why the struggle 
against patriarchy should not be spearheaded by men, or the fight against 
capitalism led by students. Marxists have no objection to students, having 
occasionally been in this unenviable condition themselves; but however 
politically important the intelligentsia may sometimes be, it cannot provide 
the major troops for the fight against capitalism. It cannot do so because it 
happens not to be socially located within the process of production in such a 
way as to be feasibly capable of taking it over. It is in this sense that the 
relation between certain social locations, and certain political forms, is a 
'necessary' one - which is not, to repeat, to assert that it is inevitable, 
spontaneous, guaranteed or God-given. Such convenient travesties of the 
case can be left to the fantasies of post-Marxism. 

We have seen that a particular brand of semiotics or discourse theory was 
the vital relay by which a whole sector of the political left shifted its political 
ground from revolutionism to reformism. That this should have happened 
just at a time when the former strategy was confronting genuine problems is 
hardly a coincidence. For all of its undoubted insights, discourse theory 
provided the ideology of this political retreat - an ideology especially alluring 
to left 'cultural' intellectuals. Hindess and Hirst now espouse a politics 
which could hardly be dubbed radical at all, while Laclau and Mouffe, if 
rather more explicitly anti-capitalist, are almost wholly silent in Hegemony 
and Socialist Strategy on the very concept of ideology. In this rarefied theore- 
tical milieu, all talk of social class or class-struggle became rapidly branded 
as Vulgar* or reductionist overnight, in panic-stricken reaction to an 


Discourse and Ideology 

'economism 1 which every intelligent socialist had in any case long left 
behind. And then, no sooner had this position become the fashionable 
orthodoxy of sections of the political left, than a sector of the British 
working class embarked upon the greatest, most protracted piece of 
industrial militancy in the annals of British labour history . . . 

With Laclau and Mouffe, what Perry Anderson has called the 'inflation of 
discourse' in post-structuralist thought reaches its apogee. Hererically 
deviating from their mentor Michel Foucault, Laclau and Mouffe deny all 
validity to the distinction between 'discursive' and 'non-discursive' practices, 
on the grounds that a practice is structured along the lines of a discourse. 
The short reply to this is that a practice may well be organized like a 
discourse, but as a matter of fact it is a practice rather than a discourse. It is 
needlessly obfuscating and homogenizing to subsume such things as 
preaching a sermon and dislodging a pebble from one's left ear under the 
same rubric. A way of understanding an object is simply projected into the 
object itself, in a familiar idealist move. In notably academicist style, the 
contemplative analysis of a practice suddenly reappears as its very essence. 
Why should we want to call a building a 'menu', just because in some 
structuralist fashion we might examine it along those lines? The fact that 
there is no necessity for this move (for the Humean Laclau and Mouffe there 
is no necessity for anything) betrays it as far from innocent. The category of 
discourse is inflated to the point where it imperializes the whole world, 
eliding the distinction between thought and material reality. The effect of 
this is to undercut the critique of ideology - for if ideas and material reality 
are given indissolubly together, there can be no question of asking where 
social ideas actually hail from. The new 'transcendental' hero is discourse 
itself, which is apparently prior to everything else. It is surely a little 
immodest of academics, professionally concerned with discourse as they are, 
to project their own preoccupations onto the whole world, in that ideology 
known as (post-) structuralism. It is as though a theatre critic, on being asked 
the way, were to instruct you to exit stage-left at the end of the High Street, 
circumvent the first flat you reach and head for the backdrop of the hills. 
The neo-Nietzschean language of post-Marxism, for which there is little or 
nothing 'given' in reality, belongs to a period of political crisis - an era in 
which it could indeed appear that the traditional social interests of the 
working class had evaporated overnight, leaving you with your hegemonic 
forms and precious little material content. Post-Marxist discourse theorists 



may place a ban on the question of where ideas come from; but we can 
certainly turn this question back on themselves. For the whole theory is itself 
historically grounded in a particular phase of advanced capitalism, and it is 
thus living testimony in its very existence to that 'necessary' relation between 
forms of consciousness and social reality which it so vehemently denies. 
What is offered as a universal thesis about discourse, politics and interests, as 
so often with ideologies, is alert to everything but its own historical grounds 
of possibility. 



I HAVE tried in this book to outline something of the history of the concept 
of ideology, and to disentangle some of the conceptual confusions attendent 
upon it. But in doing so I have also been concerned to develop my own 
particular views on the issue; and it is to a summary of these that we can 
finally turn. 

The term ideology has a wide range of historical meanings, all the way 
from the unworkably broad sense of the social determination of thought to 
the suspiciously narrow idea of the deployment of false ideas in the direct 
interests of a ruling class. Very often, it refers to the ways in which signs, 
meanings and values help to reproduce a dominant social power, but it can 
also denote any significant conjuncture between discourse and political 
interests. From a radical standpoint, the former meaning is pejorative, while 
the latter is more neutral My own view is that both of these senses of the 
term have their uses, but that a good deal of confusion has arisen from the 
failure to disentangle them. 

The rationalist view of ideologies as conscious, well-articulated systems 
of belief is clearly inadequate: it misses the affective, unconscious, mythical 
or symbolic dimensions of ideology; the way it constitutes the subject's lived, 
apparendy spontaneous relations to a power-structure and comes to provide 
the invisible colour of daily, life itself. But if ideology is in this sense 
primarily performative, rhetorical, pseudo-propositional discourse, this is 



not to say that it lacks an important prepositional content - or that such 
propositions as it advances, including moral and normative ones, cannot be 
assessed for their truth or falsehood. Much of what ideologies say is true, and 
would be ineffectual if it were not; but ideologies also contain a good many 
propositions which are flagrandy false, and do so less because of some 
inherent quality than because of the distortions into which they are 
commonly forced in their attempts to ratify and legitimate unjust, oppres- 
sive political systems. The falsity in question, as we have seen, may be 
epistemic, functional or generic, or some combination of the three. 

Dominant ideologies, and occasionally oppositional ones, often employ 
such devices as unification, spurious identification, naturalization, decep- 
tion, self-deception, universalization and rationalization But they do not do 
so universally, indeed it is doubtful that one can ascribe to ideology any 
invariable characteristics at all. We are dealing less with some essence of 
ideology than with an overlapping network of 'family resemblances' 
between different styles of signification We need, then, to look sceptically 
upon various essentialist cases about ideology: on the historicist case that it is 
the coherent world-view of a 'class subject'; on the theory that it is 
spontaneously secreted by the economic structures of society; or on the 
semiotic doctrine that it signifies 'discursive closure'. All of these perspec- 
tives contain a kernel of truth; but taken in isolation they show up as partial 
and flawed. The 'sociological' view that ideology provides the 'cement' of a 
social formation, or the 'cognitive map' which orientates its agents to action, 
is too often depoliticizing in effect, voiding the concept of ideology of 
conflict and contradiction 

Ideology in its dominant forms is often seen as a mythical or imaginary 
resolution of such contradictions, but it would be unwise to overestimate its 
success in achieving this goal. It is neither a set of diffuse discourses nor a 
seamless whole; if its impulse is to identify and homogenize, it is neverthe- 
less scarred and disarticulated by its relational character, by the conflicting 
interests among which it must ceaselessly negotiate. It is not itself, as some 
historicist Marxism would seem to suggest, the founding principle of social 
unity, but rather strives in the teeth of political resistance to reconstitute that 
unity at an imaginary level. As such, it can never be simple *other- 
worldliness' or idly disconnected thought; on the contrary, it must figure as 
an organizing social force which actively constitutes human subjects at the 
roots of their lived experience and seeks to equip them with forms of value 
and belief relevant to their specific social tasks and to the general reproduc- 




tion of the social order. But those subjects are always conflictively, pre- 
cariously constituted; and though ideology is 'subject-centred', it is not 
reducible to the question of subjectivity. Some of the most powerful 
ideological effects are generated by institutions such as parliamentary 
democracy; impersonal political processes rather than subjective states of 
being. The structure of commodity fetishism is likewise irreducible to the 
psychology of the human subject. Neither psychologistic theories of 
ideology, nor accounts which view it as the well-nigh automatic effect of 
objective social structures, are equal to the complexity of the notion. In a 
parallel way, ideology is never the mere expressive effect of objective social 
interests; but neither are all ideological signifiers 'free-floating' in respect of 
such interests. The relations between ideological discourses and social 
interests are complex, variable ones, in which it is sometimes appropriate to 
speak of the ideological signifier as a bone of contention between conflicting 
social forces, and at other times a matter of more internal relations between 
modes of signification and forms of social power. Ideology contributes to the 
constitution of social interests, rather than passively reflecting pre-given 
positions; but it does not, for all that, legislate such positions into existence 
by its own discursive omnipotence. 

Ideology is a matter of 'discourse' rather than of 'language' - of certain 
concrete discursive effects, rather than of signification as such. It represents 
the points where power impacts upon certain utterances and inscribes itself 
tacitly within them. But it is not therefore to be equated with just any form 
of discursive partisanship, 'interested' speech or rhetorical bias; rather, the 
concept of ideology aims to disclose something of the relation between an 
utterance and its material conditions of possibility, when those conditions of 
possibility are viewed in the light of certain power-struggles central to the 
reproduction (or also, for some theories, contestation) of a whole form of 
social life. For some theorists of the notion, ideology is an inherently 
technical, secular, rationalist mode of social discourse, which has spurned all 
religious or metaphysical efforts to legitimate a social order, but this view 
underplays its archaic, affective and traditionalist dimensions, which may 
enter into significant contradiction with its more 'modernizing' thrust. 

No radical who takes a cool look at the tenacity and pervasiveness of 
dominant ideologies could possibly feel sanguine about what would be 
necessary to loosen their lethal grip. But there is one place above all where 
such forms of consciousness may be transformed almost literally overnight, 
and that is in active political struggle. This is not a Left piety but an 



empirical fact When men and women engaged in quite modest, local forms 
of political resistance find themselves brought by the inner momentum of 
such conflicts into direct confrontation with the power of the state, it is 
possible that their political consciousness may be definitively, irreversibly 
altered. If a theory of ideology has value at all, it is in helping to illuminate 
the processes by which such liberation from death-dealing beliefs may be 
practically effected. 




1. See, for example, the declaration of the Italian postmodernist philosopher Gianni 
Varrimo that the end of modernity and the end of ideology are identical moments. 
'Postmodern Criticism: Postmodern Critique', in David Woods, ed. Writing the Future, London 
1990, p. 57. 

l WhatIs Ideology? 

1. Far a useful summary of the various meanings of ideology, see A. Naess et al.. 
Democracy, Ideology and Objectivity, Oslo 1956, pp. 143 ff. See also Norman Birnhaum, The 
Sociological Study of Ideology 1940-1960', Current Sociology, voL 9, 1960, for a survey of 
theories of ideology from Marx to the modern day and an excellent bibliography. 

2. Emile Durkheim, The Rules oj Sociological AfefW, London 1982, p. 86. 

3. For the 'end of ideology' ideologists, see Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology, Glencoe, 111., 
1960; Robert E. Lane, Political Ideology, New York, 1962, and Raymond Aron, The Opium of the 
Intellectuals, London 1957. 

4. Edward Shils, The concept and function of ideology', International Encyclopaedia of the 
Social Sciences, vol. 7, 1968. 

5. Alvin Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and TJtAno/ogt London 1976, p. 4. 

6. John B. Thompson, Studies in the Theory of Ideology, Cambridge 1984, p. 4. For another 
general study of ideology see D.J. Manning, ed., The Form of Ideology, London 1980. 

7. Kenneth Minogue, Alien Powers, London 1985, p. 4. 

8. M Seliger, Ideology and Politics, London 1976, p. 11. See also his The Marxist Concept of 
Ideology,London 1977. 



9. See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish The Birth of the Prison, New York 1 977, 

10. See EmileBeneviste, Pmi/owmGCTicra/Li'n^wtjft'c Miami 197!. 

11. Raymond Williams, Keywords, London 1976, pp. 143-4. 

12. Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge 1989. 

13. Alex Callinicos, Marxism andPhilosop hy, Oxford 1985, p. 134. 

14. Goran Therborn, The Ideology ofPower and the Power of IdeologyLondon 1980, p. 5. 

15. WL Sender, Ideology and Politics, passim. 

16. Rosalind Coward and John Ellis, Language and Materialism, London 1977, p. 90. 

17. JijomT.lfamberg, Donald Davidson's Philosophy of Language, Oxford 1989,p. 47. 

18. 'Belief, Bias and Ideology', in M. Hollis and S. Lukes, eds, Rationality and Relativism, 
Oxford 1982. 

19. The latter claim was one of the few parts of my argument to be seriously contested 
when I delivered a version of this chapter as a lecture at Brigham Young University, Utah. 

20. See Sabina Lovibond, Reason and Imagination in Ethics, Oxford 1982, and David O. 
Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics, Cambridge 1989. 

21. Lovibond, Reason and Imagination, p. 36. 

22. LA. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism, London 1924,ch. 35. 

23. See Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Oxford 1990, pp. 93-96. 

24. Louis Althusser, For Marx, London 1969, p. 234. 

25. Seeji. Austin, How To Do Things With Words, London 1962. 

26. Paul Hirst, Law and Ideology, London 1979, p. 38. 

27. Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading, New Haven 1979, ch. 1. 

28. Denys Turner, Marxism and Christianity, Oxford 1983, pp. 22-3. 

29. 7W,p. 26. 

30. Raymond Geuss, Theldea of a Critical Theory, Cambridge 1981, ch. 1. 

31. OH, p. 21. 

32. Tony Skillen, 'Discourse Fever', in R. Edgley and P. Osborne, eds, Radical Philosophy 
Reader,London 1985, p. 332. 

33. Peter Sloterdjjk,Criri$i*<^Cvwc<7/ .Reason, London 1988, cb, 1. 

2 Ideological Strategies 

1. M. Poster, td., Jean Baudrillard; Selected Writings, Cambridge 1988, p. 172. 

2. SlavojZi&k, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London, 1989, p. 28. 

3. Raymond Geuss, Theldea of a Critical Theory, ch. 1. 

4. See Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, London 1978. 

5. See Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, Boston 1964, and Theodor Adomo, 
Negative Dialectics, London 1973 and Minima Moralia, London 1974. 

6. Raymond V/Miuns, Marxism and Literature, Oxford 1977, p. 132. 

7. VN. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, New York and London 1973, 
p. 93. 

8. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 125. 

9. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, p. 92. 

10. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 125. 

11. J. I^plancheandJ-B.Pontalis,T/Kl^«^HajeofftycA<>-^ln<i/jsis, London 1980, p, 375. 

12. See, for example, Jon Elster, Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality, 
Cambridge 1983, and Herbert Kngarette, Self-Deception, Adantic Highlands, N.J, 1969. 

13. Turner, Marxism and Christianity, pp, 119-21. 



14. I owe some of these points to Jon Elster, 'Belief, Bias and Ideology', in M. Hollis and S. 
Lukes, eds, Rationality and Relativism, Oxford 1982. 

15. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, ed. C.J. Arthur, London 1974, 
pp. 65-6. 

16. See Jorge Larrain, The Concept of Ideology, London 1979, p. 62. 

17. Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, London 1971, p. 164. 

18. See Norman Geras, Marx and Human Nature, London 19&3, 

19. Atthusser, Lenin and Philosophy, p. 175. 

3 From the Enlightenment to the Second 

1. See George Lichtheim, The Concept of Ideology', in The Concept of Ideology and other 
Essays, New York 1967. See also Hans Barth, Truth and Ideology, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1976, 

2. For a useful account of this style of thought, see Basil Willey, The Eighteenth Century 
Background, London 1940. 

3. For a superbly erudite account of Tracy's life, see Emmet Kennedy, A Philosopher in the 
Age of Revolution: Destutt de Tracy and the Origins of 'Ideology', Philadelphia 1 978. 

4. Quoted by Kennedy, A Philosopher in the Age of Revolution, p. 189. 

5. Quoted in Naess et al.. Democracy, Ideology and Objectivity, p. 151. 

6. For an account of Marx and ideology, see H. Lefebvre, The Sociology of Marx, London 
1963, ch. 3. 

7. Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, p. 47. For some interesting comments on this 
text, see Louis Dupre, Marx's Social Critique of Culture, New Haven and London 1 983. 

8. Ibid., p. 47 (my italics). 

9. Ibid., p. 52. 

10. Williams, Marxism and Literature p. 60. 

11. See WJ.T Mitchell, Iconology, Chicago and London 1986, pp. 168 ff. 

12. Ibid,, p. 173. 

13. Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, p. 64. 

14. Ibid., p. 64. 

15. Ibid., p. 53. 

16. Marx and Engels, Selected Works, voL 1, London 1962, p. 362. 

17. K Marx, Capital, vol. 1, New York 1967, p. 71. For two excellent analyses of Marx's 
later version of ideology, see Norman Geras, 'Marxism and the Critique of Political Economy', 
in R Blackburn, ed.. Ideology in the Social Sciences, London 1972, and G.A Cohen, Karl Marx's 
Theory of History. A Defence, Oxford 1978, ch. 5. See also the comments by Franz Jakubowski, 
Ideology and Superstructure in Historical Materialism, London 1976. 

18. Cailimcos, Marxism and Philosophy, p. 131. 

19. Erienne Balibar, The Vacillation of Ideology', in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg, eds, 
Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture.VTbim and Chicago 1988, p. 168. 

20. Larrain, The Concept of Ideology, p. 180. 

21. Geras, 'Marxism and the Critique of Political Economy*, p. 286. 

22. John Mepham, The Theory of Ideology in Capital', Radical Philosophy, no. 2, summer 

23. GeoigLutecs, History and Class Consciousness, London 1971, pp. 83-4. 

24. Joe McCamey, The Real World of Ideology, Brighton 1980, p. 95. 



25. f.Englk, Anti-Diihring, Moscow 1971, p. 135. 

26. V.I. Lenin, WhatbTo Be Done?, London 1958, p. 23. 

4 From LukAcs to Gramsci 

1. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, p. 204. 

2. IW</., p. 204. 

3. 'Historicism' in its Marxist sense is elegantly summarized by Perry Anderson as an 
ideology in which 'society becomes a circular "expressive" totality, history a homogeneous 
flow of linear time, philosophy a self-consciousness of the historical process, class struggle a 
combat of collective "subjects", capitalism a universe essentially defined by alienation, 
communism a state of true humanism beyond alienation' (Considerations on Western Marxism, 
London 1976, p. 70). 

4. Bhikhu Parekh, Marx's Theory of Ideology, London 1982, pp. 171-2. 

5. Like most analogies, this one limps: the Hegelian Idea is really its own creation, 
whereas the proletariat, far from being self-generating, is for Marxism an effect of the process 
of capital. 

6. Leszek Kotakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, vol. 3, Oxford, 1978, p. 270 (my 

7. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, p. 83. For useful discussions of Lukacs's 
thought, see A. Arato and R Breines, The Young Lukacs, London 1979, ch. 8, and Michael Lowy, 
CeorgLukdcs- From Romanticism to Bolshevism, London 1979, part 4. 

8. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, p. 52. 

9. Gareth Stedman Jones, The Marxism of the early Lukacs: An Evaluation*, New Left 
Review, no. 70, November/December 1971. 

10. Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes, London 1973, part 3, ch. 2. It should 
be pointed out that Lukacs does in fact hold that there are heterogeneous 'levels' of ideology. 

11. See Ernesto LscIml, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, London 1977,ch. 3. 

12. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, p. 76. 

13. Jii</.,p. 70. 

14. See LacAoCoWetd, Marxism and Hegel, London 1973, ch. 10. 

15. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, p. 54. 

16. Ibid., p. 50. 

17. Ibid., p. 69. 

18. Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, London 1954, p. 87. There are suggestive 
critiques of Mannheim in Larrain, The Concept of Ideology, and in Nigel Abercrombie, Class, 
Structure and Knowledge, Oxford 1980. See also B. Parekh's essay in R. Benewick, ed. Knowledge 
and Belief in Politics, London 1973. 

19. Perry Anderson, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci', New Left Review, no. 100, 
November 1976/fanuary 1977. 

20. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 27, Moscow 1965, p. 464. See also Carmen Claudin- 
Urondo, Lenin and the Cultural Revolution, Hassocks, Sussex, 1977. 

21. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 112. For a historical study of political hegemony in 
eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, see Francis Heam, Domination, Legitimation, and 
Resistance, Westport, Conn., 1978. 

22. See my The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Oxford 1990, chs 1 and 2. 

23. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Q. Hoare and G. Nowell Smith, 
eds, London 1971, p. 268. 



24. Ibid*?. 376. 

25. Toil, p. 370. 

26. Ji«/„ p. 348. 

27. Ibil, p. 365. 

28. See on this topic Alberto Maria Cirese, 'Gramsci's Observations on Folklore', in Anne 
Showstack Sassoon, ed. Approaches to Gramsci, London 1982. 

29. Quoted in Cirese, 'Gramsci's Observations', p. 226. 

30. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 424. 

31. ii«f,p. 328. 

32. See Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes, London 1 973, 111,2. How far 
Poulantzas levels these charges directly at Gramsci, rather than at Lukacs, is somewhat 

33. See Chantal Mouffe, 'Hegemony and Ideology in Gramsci*, in Chantal Mouffe, eel, 
Gramsci and Marxist Theory, London 1979, p. 192. 

34. Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, p. 453. 

35. JW£,p. 18. 

5 From Adornoto Bourdieu 

1. See Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, London 1981, pp. 114-15. 

2. See Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory; London 1984. 

3. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 161. 

4. iiW.,p. 150. 

5. Ibid., p. 6. 

6. See Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Ac tion, 2 vols, Boston 1984. 

7. Quoted by Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas, London 1978, 
p. 273. 

8. Quoted in Peter Dews, ed^ Habermas: Autonomy and Solidarity,London 1986, p. 51. 

9. McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas, p. 56. 

10. Quoted iiil, p. 201. 

1 1. Jurgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, Cambridge, 1987, p. 217. Habermas's 
account of Freud has been in my view jusdy criticized as excessively rationalistic. 

12. Ibid.,p. 227. 

13. Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, voLl, Moscow rtd, p. 147. 

14. See Etieune Balibar and Pierre Macherey, 'On Literature as an Ideological Form*, in 
Robert M. Young, ed., Untying the Text, London, 1981. 

15. Russell Keat, The Politics of 'Social Theory, Oxford, 1981, p. 178. 

16. For excellent accounts of Althusser's thought, see Alex Calimicos, Althusser's Marxism, 
London 1976; Ted Benton, The Rise and Fall of Structural Marxism, London 1984; and Gregory 
Elliott, Althusser The Detour of Theory, London 1987. 

17. The essay 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses' can be found in Louis 
Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, London 1971. 

18. For a coruscating account of Western Marxism, see Perry Anderson, Considerations on 
Western Marxism, London 1976. 

19. See Louis Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism, London 1976, p. 119. 

20. See Barry Barnes, Knowledge and the Growth of Interests, London 1977, p. 41. 

21. See Edward Thompson, The Poverty of Theory. Or An Orrery of Errors', in The 
Poverty of Theory, London 1978. 



22. Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism, p. 121. 

23. Lacan's essay can be found in his Ecrits, London 1977. See also Fredric Jameson, 
'Imaginary and Symbolic in Lacan', Yale French Studies, 55/56, 1 977. 

24. Louis Althusser, ftr Marx, London 1969, pp. 233-4. 

25. See Colin MacCabe, 'On Discourse', Economy and Society, voL 8, no. 3, August 1979. 

26. Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, p, 174. 

27. Peter Dews, Logics of Disintegration, London 1987, pp. 78-79. 

28. See Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, Ch. 4. 

29. Lenin and Philosophy, p, 181. 

30. A discrepancy noted by Jacques Ranciere in his 'On the Theory of Ideology - 
Althusser's Polities', in R. Edgley and P. Osborne, eds, Radical Philosophy Reader, London 1985. 

31. See my 'Base and Superstructure in Raymond Williams', in Terry Eagleton, ed., 
Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives, Cambridge 1989. 

32. Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, p. 169 (my italics). 

33. Althusser, For Marx, p. 235. 

34. Quoted by Jonathan Ree, Philosophical Tales, London 1985, p. 59. 

35. Clifford Geertz, 'Ideology as a Cultural System', in The Interpretation cf Cultures, New 
York 1978. Stuart Hall also adopts this version of ideology in his The Problem of Ideology', in 
Betty Matthews, etL, Marx: A Hundred Years On, London 1983. 

36. See Althusser's unpublished essay of 1969, Theorie, Pratique Theorique et Formation 
Theorique, Ideologic etLucte Ideologique*, quoted by Elliot, Althusser, pp. 172-4. 

37. Raymond Boudon, The Analysis of Ideology, Oxford 1989, part 1. 

38. Dick Howard, The Politics of Critique, London 1989, p. 178. 

39. Alvin Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology, London 1976, p. 30. 

40. See Thompson, Studies in the Theory of Ideology, p. 34. 

41. Jiirgen Habermas, Towards A Rational Society, Boston 1970, p. 99 (my parentheses). 

42. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge 1977, p. 192. 

6 From Schopenhauer to Sorel 

1. Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests, Princeton New Jersey 1977. 

2. Ibid., p. 43. 

3. For a fuller account, see The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Oxford 1990, ch. 3. 

4. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, New York 1968, p. 269. 

5. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Wo/s, London 1927, p. 34. 

6. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in Walter Kaufmann, ed., Basic Writings of 
Nietzsche, New York 1968, p. 393. 

7. Stanley Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally, Oxford 1989. 

8. Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis 1982, p. 166. 

9. Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally, p. 245. 

10. See Jonathan Lear, Aristotle and the Desire to Understand, Cambridge 1988, ch. 5. 

11. See Christopher Norris, The Contest of Faculties, London 1985. 

12. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, in Sigmund Freud: Civilisation, Society and 
Religion, Harmondsworth 1985, p. 225. (All subsequent references are given parenthetically 
after quotations.) 

13. Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents, in Sigmund Freud: Civilisation, Society and 
Religion, Harmondsworth 1985, p. 337. 

14. Slavoj 2Szek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London 1989, p. 45. 



15. Ibid.,?. 125. 

16. See Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious, Conclusion. 

17. For a general survey of this period, see H. Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society, 
London 1959. 

18. Georges Sozel, Reflections on Violence, Glencoe, Illinois 1950, p. 140. 

19. /iW,p. 167. 

20. J6M.,p. 168. 

21. Walter Benjamin, 'Surrealism', in One-Way Street, London 1978, p. 238. 

22. SeeB. Halpem, 'Myth and Ideology', in History and Theory, no. 1, 1961. 

23. See Claude Iivi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, London 1968; and The Savage Mind, 
London 1966. 

24. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Werke, R Tiedemann and T.W. Adomo, eds, Frankfurt 
1966, voL 5, p. 505. 

25. See Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending, New York 1967, pp. 1 12-13. 

7 Discourse and Ideology 

1. VN. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, New York 1973, p, 9. 

2. Ibid„p. 13. 

3. Thompson, Studies in the Theory of Ideology, p. 132. 

4. See, for example, William Labov, Sociotinguistic Patterns, Philadelphia 1972; Malcolm 
Coulthard, Introduction to Discourse Analysis, Harlow 1977; MJUC Halliday, Language as Social 
Semiotic, London 1978; Gunter Kress and Roger Hodge, Language as Ideology, London 1979; 
Roger Fowler, Literature as Social Discourse, London 1981; and Diane Macdonell, Theories of 
Discourse, Oxford 1986. 

5. Rosalind Coward and John Ellis, Language and Materialism, London 1977, p. 73. 

6. See my discussion of this topic in The Function of Criticism, London 1984, pp. 100-2. 

7. Roland Bardies, Mythologies, London 1972, p. 143. 

8. Christopher Norris, Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the Critique of Aesthetic Ideology, 
London 1988, pp. 48-9. 

9. Paul de Man, The Resistance to Theory, Minneapolis 1986, p. 11. 

10. See in particular Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst, Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production 
London 1975, and Mode of Production and Social Formation, London 1 977. John Frow promotes a 
similar 'semiotic' theory of ideology in his Marxism and Literary History, Oxford 1986, pp. 55-8. 

11. A. Cutler, B. Hindess, P. Hirst and A. Hussain, Marx's 'Capital' and Capitalism Tbday, 
voL 1, London 1977, pp. 222, 236. 

12. Ibid.,?. 237. 

13. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London 1985. (All 
page references to this work will be given parenthetically after quotations.) 


Further Reading 

For those looking for an excellent book-length introduction to the topic of 
ideology, Jorge Larrain's The Concept of Ideology is difficult to match in 
historical scope and analytic power. It can be supplemented by the deeply 
tendentious tide essay of George Lichtheim's The Concept of Ideology and Other 
Essays, and by the brief but suggestive essay on ideology contained in 
Raymond Williams's Marxism and Literature. Raymond Geuss's The Idea of a 
Critical Theory is a particularly elegant, rigorous study of the question, with 
special reference to the Frankfurt School, while John B. Thompson's Studies 
in the Theory of Ideology ranges usefully from Castoriadis to Habermas from a 
position broadly sympathetic to the latter. 

Classic Marxist texts on the subject are Marx and Engels, The German 
Ideology; Marx's chapter on commodity fetishism in Capital Volume 1; Georg 
Lukacs's essay on 'Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat' in 
History and Class Consciousness; VN. Voloshinov's Marxism and the Philosophy of 
Language; and Louis Althusser's now celebrated essay on 'Ideology and 
Ideological State Apparatuses' in Lenin and Philosophy. 



Abercrombie, N., Hill, S., and B. 

Turner, The Dominant Ideology Thesis 
35, 36, 37 
Adorno, Theodor 46, 47, 87, 100, 1 10, 
128, 131, 136 
and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of 

Enlightenment 127 
Negative Dialectics 126 
aesthetic, Kantian 19, 20, 162 
agency xii, 140-41, 198,215,216 
alienation 47, 70, 84, 136, 142 
Alrhusser, Louis 191, 194 

concept of ideology in 18, 19, 20, 21, 
Essays in Self-Criticism 138 
For Marx 137 
on ideological state apparatuses 67, 

147, 156 
and the social formation 153, 154 
and subjecrivation 136, 141-6 passim, 

163, 176, 177, 198 
Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 146 

Anderson, Perry 112, 146, 219, 228 n3 
Aristotle 12, 172, 173 
Austin, J.L 19, 93 

Bachelard, Gaston 71 

Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum 161 

Bakhrin, Mikhail 107 

Balibar, Etienne 85, 135 

Barnes, Barry 138 

Barthes, Roland 58, 68, 200 

Mythologies 199 
base, Marxist concept of 73, 74, 80, 81, 

82, 85, 100, 148, 179, 195 
Baudrillard.Jean 38, 39, 42, 166 
Beckett, Samuel 23 
Benjamin, Walter 185, 187, 191 
Bentham, Jeremy 78, 181 
Bergson, Henri 162, 187 
Bernstein, Eduard 90 
Bloch, Ernst, The Principle of Hope 

Bonaparte, Napoleon 67-8, 70, 78 
Boudon, Raymond 154 



Bourdieu, Pierre SO, 58, 188 

Distinction 158 

Outline of a Theory of Practice 156, 157 

Questions desociologie 157 
Brecht,Bertolt7, 188 
Burke, Edmund 79 

Callinicos, Alex 11, 85 

Capital (Marx) 69, 84, 85, 87, 88, 91, 

104, 125 
capitalism 6, 26, 59, 60, 85, 86, 87, 100, 
101, 103, 104, 107, 112, 113, 116, 125, 
131, 154, 155, 162, 171, 185, 218 
advanced 4, 34-9 passim, 41, 42, 75, 
112, 127, 128, 198, 220 
civil society 113, 114, 115, 116 
class 13, 101, 154,211,212,215 
as defining concept of ideology 1, 

dominant see ruling class 
society 150, 151, 185, 206 
struggle xii, 69, 80, 82, 84, 90, 147, 

166, 196, 218, 228 n3 
see also consciousness, class; ruling 
class; working class 
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 66 

exchange 125, 126, 136 
fetishism 30, 37, 40, 46, 59, 84-8 
passim, 95, 97, 100, 101, 102, 103, 
109, 112 
form 98, 99, 104, 105 
communism 81, 149, 150, 228 n3 
Condillac, Etienne de 66, 78 
Condorcet, Marquis de 72 
Conrad, Joseph 107 

consciousness 47, 59, 64, 65, 69, 70-73, 
85, 93, 94, 193, 194 
class 44, 57, 86, 99, 100, 104, 105, 

and legitimation 37, 45, 46 

and materialist theory 33, 74, 76, 77, 

popular 120 

practical 48, 49, 50, 54, 75, 138 
see also false consciousness; 
working-class consciousness 
consumerism 37, 39, 42 
Coward, Rosalind 11, 197 
critique xiv, 171 
emancipatory 132 
ideology 39, 59, 72, 106, 108, 133, 
134, 136, 177, 185, 200, 219 
Culler, Jonathan 41 
culturalism 36, 39 
culture 38, 114, 115, 120, 179 

as synonymous with ideology 28-9, 
181, 182 
cynicism 38, 41, 42, 61 

Davidson, Donald 13, 14 
deconstruction 128, 131 
de Man, Paul 24, 203 

The Resistance to Theory 200 
Derrida, Jacques 36, 197 
Dews, Peter 145 

and ideology 8, 9, 16, 21, 22, 23, 29, 
31, 154-5, 194, 209, 213, 221, 223 

post-Marxist theorization of 202-3, 

theory 195, 196, 197, 210 
domination 14, 31, 55, 116, 128, 130, 

132, 154, 175, 180 
The Dominant Ideology Thesis 

(Abercrombie, Hill and Turner) 35, 

Durkheim, Emile 3 

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life 

Rules of Sociological Method 71, 153 



economism 87, 99, 148, 153, 213, 219 

Ellisjohn 11, 197 

Elster.Jon 14 

emancipation xiii, xiv, 57, 96, 99, 182 

empiricism 64, 75, 76, 77, 159, 208, 

Engels, Friedrich 43, 66, 71, 72, 76, 83, 
Anti-Diihring 89 

and Karl Marx, The German Ideology 
44, 47, 56, 59, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75, 
77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 87, 88, 89, 90, 
91, 117, 121, 134, 149, 165 
Enlightenment 5, 77, 159, 189 

rationality xiv, 64, 72, 138, 178 
exchange value 86, 125, 127 


mystification as 86 

and value 17, 99, 132 
false consciousness 7, 10, 18, 25, 53, 93, 


the case against 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 

as defined by Engels 89, 90 

enlightened 27, 39, 40 

immediate experience as 98, 99 

andLukacs 104, 106 

and Marx 71, 72, 75, 78, 79, 87, 88, 
105, 177 
fascism 7, 9, 101, 127, 153, 188, 198 
feminism 6, 7, 61, 69, 153, 166, 206, 211, 

feudalism 113, 154 
Feuerbach, Ludwig 77 

The Essence ofChristianity 72 
field, concept of in Bourdieu 157 
Fish, Stanley 68, 167-72, 175 

Doing What Comes Naturally 202 
Foucault, Michel 7, 8, 47, 110, 137, 146, 

167, 169, 219 

Frankfurt School 36, 46, 47, 126, 127, 

128, 130, 185, 198 
Freud, Sigmund 175, 182 

The Future of an Illusion 177, 178-9, 

and ideology 89, 133, 134, 135, 136, 

176, 184, 185 
see also superego; unconscious, 
Freudianism 132, 183, 189 

Gadamer, Hans-Georg 128, 174 

Geertz, Clifford 151 

gender 13 

Geras, Norman 86 

The German Ideology (Marx and Engels) 

44, 47, 56, 59, 69, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75, 

77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 

Godwin, William 66 
Geuss, Raymond 24, 25, 43 
Goldmann, Lucien 46, 110, 121 

The Hidden God 111 

Towards a Sociology of ike Novel 112 
Gouldner, Alvin 4, 154, 155 
Gramsci, Antonio 36, 50, 137, 147, 178, 

179, 188 

concept of ideology in 46, 149 

on hegemony 112, 113, 115, 116, 117, 

on intellectuals 118, 119, 120, 121 

Prison Notebooks 116, 122, 123 
Gunn, Thom xiii 

Habermasjurgen 14, 47, 128, 129-34, 

136, 155, 229 nil 

Legitimation Crisis 37 

Towards a Rational Society 37 
habitus, concept of in Bourdieu 156 
Hardy, Thomas, The Return of the Native 




Heaney, Seamus 200 

Hegel, G.W.F. xii, 3, 78, 94, 99, 151, 161 

The Phenomenology of Spirit 70, 98 
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (Laclau 

and Mouffe) 215, 217, 218 
hegemony, concept of 112-17, 120, 122, 

158, 179, 180, 215-17, 228 n21 
Heidegger, Martin 3, 164, 200 
Helvetius, Claude 66, 160 
Hindess, Barry 203-6, 208, 209, 210, 

Hirschman, Albert 160 
Hirst, Paul 22, 203-6, 208, 209, 210, 

212-16, 218 
historical materialism 74, 90, 91, 104, 

136, 140 
History and Class Consciousness (Lukacs) 

Hobbes, Thomas 78, 159, 165, 181 
Holbach, P. d* 66 
Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor 

Adorno, Dialectic ofEnlightenment 

Howard, Dick 154 

end of xii, 4, 5, 38, 39, 42, 154, 182, 

225 nl 
Freudian concept of 176, 177, 181, 

Gramscian theory of 116, 117, 119 
in Habermas 128, 129, 132, 155 
in Lukacs 3, 59, 87, 99, 100, 101, 

102-3, 105, 106 
Marx and 11, 30, 66, 70, 72, 76-80, 

and science 64, 65, 66, 67, 95, 111, 

137, 138, 139, 140, 159 
see also critique, of ideology; false 

imperialism 96, 97, 107, 175 
intelligentsia 118, 119, 120, 121, 123 

and definition of ideology 1, 9-10, 

29, 160, 221, 223 
post-Marxist theorizarion of 212-13, 

postmodernist theorizarion of 165, 

166, 167, 172-3 
irony 11,40,60 

Hume, David 159,219 

Jameson, Fredric 126, 184 
idealism 36, 67, 72, 76, 78, 99, 153, 193, Jefferson, Thomas 69 

identity thinking 2, 126, 127, 128 
ideology xi, 1-3, 10, 28, 43-5, 48, 49, 51, 
63, 69, 107, 109, 110, 164, 165, 166, 
in Adorno 126, 127, 128 
Althusserian definition of 18-21, 50, 
58, 141, 142, 144, 146-50, 152, 
153, 198 
andBourdieu 158,188 
and discourse 16, 29, 135, 194, 195, 

dominant 27, 30, 34-7, 41, 45-7, 56, 

Kant, Immanuel 19, 20, 111, 162, 172, 

173, 189 
Keat, Russell 136 
Kennedy, Emmet 69 
Kermode, Frank, The Sense of an Ending 

Kolakowski, Leszek 99 
Korsch, Karl 95 

labour 74, 85, 86, 133, 179 

division of 148, 151 

power 95, 125 
Lacan, Jacques 142, 144, 145, 176, 182 



Laclau, Ernesto 174, 216, 219 

and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and 

Socialist Strategy 215, 217, 218 

and ideology 9, 16, 17, 26, 129, 195, 

and solidarity 13, 14 

see also discourse 
Laplanche.J. 51 
Larrain, Jorge 86 
Lawrence, D.H. 162 
Leavis, F.R. 200 
Lefort, Claude 155 
the left 6, 8, 61, 68, 119, 170, 218, 219 
legitimation 1, 5-6, 7, 29, 43, 54-6, 110, 

Lenin, V.I. 44, 77, 79, 114, 115, 138, 139 

What Is To Be Done! 90 
Leninism 91, 114, 141 
Levi, Primo, The Drowned and the Saved 

Levi-Strauss, Claude 188 
liberalism 6, 61 
literature 22, 23, 24, 135 
Locke, John 64, 76 
Lukacs, Georg 3, 93, 110, 112, 121, 122, 

132, 136, 149 

History and Class Consciousness 94, 95, 
98, 100, 102, 103, 104 

and revolutionary subject 46, 77, 96, 

97, 118 
see also ideology, in Lukacs 
Lyotard, Jean-Francois 166 

Macherey, Pierre 46, 135 
Mannheim, Karl 46, 109, 110 

Ideology and Utopia 107-8 
Maoism 26 
Marcuse, Herbert 46, 47, 185 

One-Dimensional Man 127 
Marx, Karl 3, 35; 60, 65, 68, 106, 1 1 1, 

113, 138, 140, 161, 162, 164, 170, 171, 

177, 182 

Capitals, 84, 85, 87, 88, 91, 104, 

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts 

The Eighteenth Brumaire 55, 105 
and Friedrich Engels, The German 
Ideology 44, 47, 56, 59, 69, 70, 71, 
73, 74, 75, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 87, 
Preface to the Critique of Political 

Economy 80 
Theories of Surplus Value 80, 133 
see also commodity, fetishism of; 
ideology, Marx and 
Marxism 57, 94, 99, 100, 106, 131, 170, 
171, 172, 173, 183, 186, 197, 198 
and consciousness 77, 81, 93, 103,118 
historicist 91, 101, 111, 122, 123, 222 
Western 36, 137, 146, 153 
materialism 33, 66, 70, 73, 76, 197, 199 

see also historical materialism 
McCarney, Joe 89 
McCarthy, Thomas 132 
media 34, 35, 37, 39 
Mehring, Franz 89 
Mepham, John 86 
Mill, John Stuart 15 
Minogue, Kenneth 6 
Mitchell, WJ.T. 76, 77 
modernism 131, 199 
monarchy 11,44,60, 155 
Montesquieu, Charles 72 
Mouffe, Chantal 216, 219 

and Ernesto Laclau, Hegemony and 
Socialist Strategy 215, 217, 218 
mystification 6, 7, 26, 28, 86, 109, 110, 
178, 191, 209 
myth 185-91 passim, 199 



nationalism, Irish 189-90 
naturalization 58-61, 116, 199, 200, 202, 

nature 59, 155,199 

human 60 
Nietzsche, Friedrich 175, 186 

concept of ideology and 55, 140, 
141, 164, 165 

and post-Marxist thought 203, 205 

and power 8, 9, 10, 53, 163, 167, 168, 
176, 187 
Nixon, Richard 5 
Norris, Christopher 200 

Othello (Shakespeare) 54 


Treatise of General Sociology 186 
patriarchy 13, 196 
Pearson, Karl 138 
Pecheux, Michel 196,197 

Language, Semantics and Ideology 195 
Plamenatz, John, Ideology 202 
Pontalis, J.-B. 51 
post-Marxism 109, 203, 204, 206, 208, 

209, 210, 215-19 
postmodernism xi, xii, 10, 38, 39, 43, 

61, 107, 165, 166, 169, 171, 201 
post-structuralism xi, 41, 126, 127, 128, 

162, 198, 201, 216, 219 
Poulantzas, Nicos 101, 121, 122, 154, 

229 n32 
power xii, xiii, II, 33, 36, 45, 46, 47, 64, 


struggles 8, 16, 81, 110, 113, 223 

see also legitimation; Nietszche, and 
Priestley, Joseph 66 
Prison Notebooks (Gramsci) 116, 122, 123 

production 82, 83 

mode of xii, 47, 80, 100 
property, private 66 
psychoanalysis xiv, 52, 197 

and critique of ideology 133, 136, 

Freudian 179, 181 

Lacanian 137, 144 

race 13 

racism 21, 23, 51, 112, 148, 170 

rationality xii, 12 

communicative 129-33 

Enlightenment xiv, 138, 178 
rationalization 51-4, 61, 89, 98, 103, 


literary 200 

moral 17, 18 
reformism 35, 40, 210, 218 
reification 46, 47, 59, 70, 95, 97, 98, 99, 

religion 50, 60, 113, 153, 177, 178, 183 
representation xi, 18, 20, 30, 209, 210, 

revolution xiii, 57, 100, 187, 197 

Russian 114 
Richards, IA 19 
Ricoeur, Paul 108 
Rorty, Richard 11, 68, 169, 174 
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 72 
ruling class 5, 28, 30, 35, 44, 52, 55, 56, 

79, 112, 122, 123, 221 

Saussure, Ferdinand de 209, 210, 211, 

Schopenhauer, Arthur 162, 163, 175, 


The World as Will and Representation 
science 87, 179 



and ideology 64, 65, 66, 67, 95, 139, 
152, 154, 155, 159 

Marxism as 104, 111, 128, 137, 138, 
140, 143 
Second International 89, 94, 95, 104, 

self-deception, concept of 53 
Seliger, Martin 6-7, 1 1 

Ideology and Politics 48 
sexism 9, 26, 148 
Shils, Edward 4 
Sloterdijk, Peter 27, 39, 40 
Smith, Adam 133, 149, 171 
socialism 59, 105, 115, 127, 131, 166, 


as ideology 6, 7, 44, 61, 90 

revolutionary 102, 187 

scientific 89 
sociology 147 

of knowledge 108, 109 
solidarity 13,45 
Sorel, Georges 44, 187, 188, 191 

Reflections on Violence 186 
Spinoza, Baruch 146 
Stalinism 115, 121,198 
state xii, 55, 57, 113, 116, 154 
Stedman Jones, Gareth 100, 103 
Stendhal, MH. 69 
structuralism 37, 110, 148 
subject 156, 199 

discursive 196, 197, 198 

Freudian 176-7 

ideological positioning of xiv, 1, 

see also Althusser, and subjecrivation; 
subjectivity 38, 39, 43, 47, 146, 148, 223 

see also Althusser, and subjectivation; 
suffragettes see feminism 

superego 144, 146, 180, 181 
superstructure, Marxist concept of 73, 

74, 80, 81, 82, 83, 85, 88, 100, 125, 

155, 179 

technology 37, 103 

TelQuel \96, 197 

television 34-5, 38, 39, 42, 147 

Thatcher, Margaret 21, 33, 34, 174 

Thatcherism 33 

Therborn, Goran 1 1 

Thompson, E.P., The Poverty of Theory 

Thompson, John B. 5, 195 
totality, social 108, 111, 112, 118, 173, 

204, 228 n3 

concept of, in Lukacs 95, 96, 97, 99, 
100, 104 
Tracy, Antoine Destutt de 66-70, 78 
Turner, Denys 24, 53 


inBourdieu 156 

Freudian 134, 141, 149, 162, 176-7, 
181, 184 

Lacanian 144 
universalization 56-8, 59, 60, 61, 202, 

use value 125, 127 
Utopia 109, 127, 131, 132, 185 

value 18 

and fact 17, 99, 132 

surplus 86 

see also exchange value; use value 
Vattimo, Gianni 225 nl 
Voloshinov, V.N. 48, 49, 50 

Marxism and the Philosophy of 
Language 194, 195, 196 

wage-relation 85 



The Waste Land (Eliot) 188 see also feminism 

Weber, Max 98 Wordsworth, William 59 
Williams, Raymond 47, 48, 75-6, 115 

Keywords 9-10 Yeats, WB. 24 
Wittgenstein, Ludwig 88, 168, 174, 193 

women xiv, 57, 69, 96, 1 53, 206, 2 1 1, 2 1 8 2ii e k, Slavoj 40, 184 


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' jus posl-Gtructuralntf As wall d» danfytng a 
rwtoficHhU'V confused Iodul, ih*s new wur*. t>* 
one of out most important coratempor&tv crtl 
• t conttovarswk political mUKvenflon into 
owrranl Phrro*Ht>cal debute! n wiH pa auanlfil 
TBadmg tor student* jnd ulscnora o' <iwjnu» 
and politics 

an in-ipnrssJv*. daunting wutk . 
u consrderabte aceomplisbnnflnr 

San Frunctscu Ftevmvv tit Boots 

writy, lucid,, and powarod by that itmging,. 

militant i remising InlQlllganc* which 

dislin^urKhiis Eagtoton's Wort 

GuatHtan (London) 

pwcBllfent and i"ny&uiitu . . Edyhton ll 

•r\\ urm o [ ■• va, w if ty And wUfl 

Ttmns K-gttBf bturativn Supptawmt 

Cinm far Jfft UirtA Cw*yi «udb«(BL bSHm 

1 ' tu**r4. t;, firtirj itrtw tflaD. »rmni »fl